• Swiss bank accounts case against Zardari to be reopened
• Commission’s report on Broadsheet released

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Thursday decided to initiate a criminal inquiry against major players of the Broadsheet — an international assets recovery firm — saga and reopen the Swiss bank accounts case against PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari.

The cabinet took these decisions in the light of a 61-page inquiry report of the commission comprising retired Justice Azmat Sheikh relating to Broadsheet LLC and other matters.

“We have decided to initiate an inquiry against main players of Broadsheet scandal — Pakistan’s former high commissioner in UK Abdul Basit, joint secretary of law ministry Ghulam Rasool, senior lawyer Ahmer Bilal Sufi, director audit and accounts in Pakistan’s High Commission in UK Shahid Ali Baig, Hassan Saqib Shaikh, a civil servant, and Tariq Fawad Malik — as these persons have been declared main accused in the inquiry report,” federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said at a press conference held to apprise media about the decisions of the cabinet.

He said the report of Justice Saeed was presented before the cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan and later made public.

“According to the report, the period from 2011 to 2017 is believed to be the darkest era of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) when Chaudhry Qamar Zaman was its chairman,” the minister said.

The report says: “It is clear and obvious that at a certain period of time in NAB’s history when in all high profile cases especially involving illicit foreign assets, prosecution was conducted halfheartedly but more importantly appeals against acquittal were either not filed or deliberately allowed to become time barred. NAB’s a darkest hour in this regard was from mid 2011 to the end of 2017. A plaint, passive and subservient chairman NAB, beholden to the political parties in power is a guarantee for failure of accountability.”

The report says original documents of Swiss bank accounts case are missing because of “criminal negligence” of NAB officials. “Therefore criminal liability will also be fixed against Qamar Zaman and other senior officials of NAB,” Fawad Chaudhry said.

He said as the government had got original document /evidences of Swiss bank account case therefore, it will be reopened against Asif Zardari. “Since it is a criminal case and is not time barred, it can be reopened any time,” he added.

Meanwhile, lawyer Ahmer Bilal Sufi in a statement said as an outside lawyer his written mandate was limited to negotiations only. The lawyer said he was not instructed by his client (NAB) to undertake due diligence of the company of Jerry James, a representative of Broadsheet, therefore he could not be held responsible for consequences of lack of due diligence.

Further, Mr Sufi said, he was sidelined from a meeting in London where the agreement with Broadsheet LLC was supposed to be revised based on documents that were to be brought by Jerry James.

The lawyer claimed that he was not shown the signed agreement letter as well and that no criminal responsibility could be fixed on him and he reserved the right to challenge the allegations against him before appropriate forums.

In the report the commission laments that all institutions, except NAB, did not cooperate with it. “The level of non-cooperation from the various ministries/divisions/departments would have made Gandhi proud. Every effort was made to conceal, hide and ‘misplace’ the relevant record in a rather obvious effort to cover up the incompetence and corruption of the present incumbents, their predecessors and political benefactors,” it adds.

The report says the government’s asset recovery agreement with Broadsheet was “proof of government institutions not understanding international law”.

The report says the record related to UK-based firm Broadsheet LLC was “missing almost everywhere including the Pakistan High Commission in London”.

The head of the mission did “not consider it necessary” to record the statements of Broadsheet owner Kaveh Moussavi and Tariq Fawad Malik who was part of the firm’s team in Pakistan, it says.

The commission was formed to probe the execution of the contract and payments made to Broadsheet LLC in connection with an investigation into offshore properties of Pakistani politicians. The commission completed the probe on March 23 and submitted its report to the Prime Minister Office.

The report is spread on 61 pages and about 500 more pages are annexed to it as documents and statements of witnesses.

Moussavi was a “convicted person” who had levelled allegations against certain personalities, the report says.

An investigation into those allegations was not included in the commission’s terms of reference, it says, adding that the government can investigate into the allegations if it wants.

The commission observes that 12 diplomatic cartons containing the record related to Swiss bank accounts were currently with NAB which can analyse whether the record would be useful.

In 2009, then Pakistani high commissioner in the United Kingdom Wajid Shamsul Hasan had reportedly received the 12 cartons comprising original documents and evidence against some Pakistani high-ups in a money laundering case.

The report says the government system has “caused dishonour and monetary loss” for the country and recommended changes in the rules of business.

“Political pressure often becomes the cause of authorities making wrong decisions,” it says.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered the report to be made public, following which, the report was released on Thursday.

During the six-week inquiry, the commission recorded statements of 26 witnesses, including four former chairmen of NAB, including three former three-star generals namely retired Lt Gen Mohammad Amjad, Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool and Lt Gen Munir Hafeez. The commission also recorded the statement of former NAB chairman Naveed Ahsan. Former and incumbent federal secretaries also testified before the commission.

The main objective of the committee was to investigate reports of UK-based assets recovery firm Broadsheet on corruption allegedly committed by over 200 Pakistani nationals, including politicians, bureaucrats and military personnel, in 45 days.

The commission examined the contracts signed by NAB with Broadsheet LLC and other international asset recovery firms to unearth foreign assets made by Pakistanis through ill-gotten money.

Broadsheet LLC, a UK-based company, which was registered in the Isle of Man in the Pervez Musharraf era, helped the then government and the newly established NAB track down foreign assets purchased by Pakistanis through alleged ill-gotten wealth.

Broadsheet claimed that it was established to enter into an asset recovery agreement on June 20, 2000, and did so with the then president of Pakistan, through the NAB chairman, for the purposes of recovering funds and other assets fraudulently taken from the state and other institutions, including through corrupt practices, and held outside Pakistan.

After NAB terminated the contract in 2003, Broadsheet and another company involved as a third party filed for damages, saying Pakistan owed them money according to the terms agreed upon since the government was taking action to confiscate some of the assets they had identified, including the Avenfield property owned by the Sharif family.

The companies’ claims against Pakistan were held valid by an arbitration court and later by a United Kingdom high court that gave an award of over $28 million against Pakistan last year.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2021

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