HE’S the flavour of the month for all the wrong reasons. Which is exactly why one Mr Kaveh Moussavi has been so successful in fragrancing the Pakistani airwaves with delicious tales of financial skullduggery deep inside the bowels of our power corridors. But as tales go, this one too may have a twisted ending.
There is something about foreign-based, Pakistani-linked scandals that is hard to resist. Remember Memogate? A mysterious foreigner, some incriminating documents, a few well-calculated media leaks, wild political point-scoring, high officials travelling to distant shores for hush-hush meetings and state institutions jumping on the bandwagon to create a perfect storm that ended in a teacup.
Well, here we are all over again, all breathless with excitement and anticipation over another ‘exposé’ that will prove something or the other for someone or the other. But wait. Stop. Take a take breath. Now, let’s cut through clutter.
Moussavi has hit the airwaves like a man possessed.
Here’s what we have been told so far: Gen Pervez Musharraf, soon after taking over, decided to trace Nawaz Sharif’s wealth that he believed was stashed abroad. He tasked the newly formed NAB to do so. NAB contracted an organisation called Broadsheet — led by Moussavi and specialising in tracing hidden money — to find the stash. At some point NAB reneged on the contract. Broadsheet went to court. For many years there was silence. Then late into the previous Nawaz Sharif government, one heard that Broadsheet had won the case against Pakistan and was awarded nearly $28 million. While Moussavi was making efforts to get this amount from the Pakistani government, he told some Pakistani officials he had found out through his sources that a billion dollars had been moved from an account in Saudi Arabia to an unknown account in Singapore. Moussavi said this money belonged to Nawaz Sharif. He offered to trace those billion dollars so that they could be repatriated to Pakistan. In return, he would take a 20 per cent commission.
The tale continues: lawyers get involved, one UK barrister of Pakistani origin waltzes around in Islamabad and meets Prime Minister Imran Khan, Asad Umar and Barrister Shahzad Akbar among other people. He leads Moussavi to believe that the PTI government may be interested in taking up his offer. Then sometime in 2019, this UK lawyer fades into the tale’s tapestry and a general appears on the scene. Laden with official documents, he meets Moussavi in a café (where else) and tells him the government could give him the new contract to trace the billion dollars, but only if Moussavi agreed to give him his ‘cut’. Moussavi declines, the general is heard of no more, and the tale appears to end with Moussavi successfully getting the $28m from Pakistan in December last (through the Pakistan High Commission in London’s account — and yes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not amused). The end. Roll credits.
Except, not really. Season Two started earlier this month. And it’s off to a rollicking start. Moussavi has hit the airwaves like a man possessed and his accusations are flying fast and furious. So far he has raked the PTI government over the coals while simultaneously lashing out at the Sharif family for making what he says are wrong claims about the Avenfield apartments. The media is having a field day.
But there is a problem. The tale told so far originates from multiple sources. This is where things get slippery.
Version One is a letter written by Moussavi’s attorney to another lawyer listing out details via, what we can assume, is Moussavi’s narrative. Version Two is Moussavi’s interviews to Pakistani print, broadcast and digital outlets. Version Three is Barrister Shahzad Akbar via his press conferences and media interviews. Version Four is PML-N people giving some vague explanations.
Bottomline: Version One’s credibility is weighted to an extent that it is a documented version signed by an attorney and therefore, one assumes, is a product of due diligence. And yet, it is a version of one man backed by whatever evidence he has shared with his lawyer. Version Two’s credibility weighs less because it is again one man giving out his side of the story in interviews that technically hold no legal value. Version Three’s credibility is as heavy or light as Version Two’s because it too is just a verbal narration of events by one government adviser that may or may not be fully accurate. Version Four is basically a filler.
So how do we know what the real story is? There’s a degree of difficulty right there because everyone concerned seems to have a legitimate reason not to have the real and full story come out. Moussavi wants the government of Pakistan to give him a contract to chase the one billion dollars so he can pocket a cool two hundred million dollars. But how do we know that those one billion actually exist? Short answer: we don’t know. The government of Pakistan wants to nail the Sharifs to the Broadsheet door and the best way is for its version of the story to fit nicely into the corruption narrative. What if the full story comes out? Then, who knows, maybe the bribe allegations under this government’s watch may grow legs and walk all over the PTI narrative. The Sharifs want to prove they have been hounded for two decades by successive governments and till date there’s not much in these allegation about money stashed abroad. And if the story comes out? Anything incriminating at this stage would grievously injure their narrative.
The only option available: the judgement of the UK judge that ordered payment of $28m to Moussavi is made public. It may be the only credible story available so far because it has been vetted legally via all evidence available. For it to become public, both Moussavi and the government of Pakistan have to agree on doing so. If neither of the two takes any initiative to bring it into the open, it would indicate that neither wants the facts to come fully out.
Dial M for Moussavi? Not really.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2021