PM’s aide on anti-graft drive quits under a cloud

Published January 25, 2022
Adviser to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar addresses a press conference in Lahore on Jan 14. — PID/File
Adviser to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar addresses a press conference in Lahore on Jan 14. — PID/File

• Insiders say Shahzad Akbar asked to resign over unsatisfactory performance
• More changes in cabinet likely

ISLAMABAD: A key member of the federal cabinet whose role was central to achieving one of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) main manifesto promises — holding the corrupt accountable and securing the return of the country’s stolen wealth — has parted ways with the government.

But after Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the prime minister’s adviser on accountability and interior, announced his resignation on Monday, it emerged that PM Imran Khan may not have been too happy with the performance of the man hand-picked to lead the charge against his main political opponents; the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Insiders told Dawn that following Mr Akbar’s resignation, the prime minister was looking for another trustworthy aide to lead the accountability drive.

Mr Akbar announced his decision in a tweet, saying that although he had sent his resignation to Prime Minister Imran Khan, he would still remain associated with the PTI.

“I sincerely hope the process of accountability continues under the leadership of PM Imran as per the PTI’s manifesto. I will remain associated with the party and keep contributing as a member of the legal fraternity,” he tweeted.

But sources in the government claimed that he was asked to resign because his performance was unsatisfactory, but many observers were curious over the reason behind the parting of ways.

Others wondered what would be the fate of the corruption and money laundering cases being pursued by the former accountability czar against the likes of Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Asif Ali Zardari, among others.

But sources said PM Khan had already interviewed two individuals for the job, adding that this could also lead to a few changes in the composition of the federal cabinet in the days to come.

Sources privy to the development told Dawn that the PM had lost faith in Mr Akbar, who had — in the prime minister’s view — failed to take the corruption cases against the Sharif family and others to their logical conclusion.

“Shahzad Akbar had assured the prime minister that he would bring back the laundered and looted wealth within the first three years the government’s term,” said a source close to the PM.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle, the source said, had begun to criticise the prime minister for his failure to send put their corrupt former rulers behind bars or recover the wealth they had allegedly stashed abroad.

It was Mr Akbar who had claimed that over Rs 700 billion in laundered money had been stashed in off-shore banks and had vowed to recover this amount when he was appointed as an adviser to the PM in July 2020.

Earlier, he had served as special assistant to the PM and a former deputy prosecutor for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

He is also the founder, legal director and a trustee of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, an organisation that works “towards the advancement, protection and enforcement of fundamental human rights”.

Akbar, who played a key role in the Panama Papers case that saw the conviction for former PM Nawaz, had been tasked securing his return to Pakistan, another task that he supposedly failed to accomplish.

He was also the chairman of the Asset Recovery Unit, formed in 2018, to suggest ways and legal means to bring back the ill-gotten money stashed abroad, as well as probing properties owned by Pakistanis in foreign countries.

Interestingly, the PML-N had been claiming for several days that Shahzad Akbar would not be the PM’s adviser for much longer.

In a recent interaction with Dawn, PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb, when asked to comment on one of Mr Akbar’s recent statements, had said “I do not want to comment on his remarks as he has become irrelevant and will leave office soon.”

Dawn made several attempts to reach Mr Akbar, but he was not available for comment.

However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that Mr Akbar had worked under “tremendous pressure”.

“Taking action against mafias is not easy, but the way you worked and handled the cases is admirable. More important work is now awaiting you,” he tweeted after news of Mr Akbar’s resignation became public.

In a press conference on Monday, he said that since most accountability cases were now in court, the adviser’s departure would have no bearing on the proceedings of these cases.

He said appreciated Mr Akbar for doing a “fantastic job” during his time as adviser to the PM, adding that he would continue to serve as a member of the PTI’s core committee.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2022

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