The Assets Recovery Unit (ARU), which was set up by former prime minister Imran Khan to bring looted money from foreign countries back to Pakistan, helped recover Rs426.4 billion over the last three years, according to documents prepared by the Cabinet Division this month.

Of the total amount, over Rs334bn was recovered in the last fiscal year alone, according to the Cabinet Division's yearbook for 2020-21, which was prepared in May 2022, well over a month after Shehbaz Sharif took over as the prime minister.

The ARU was set up in September 2018 to "provide a forum" for law enforcement agencies, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) and provincial anti-corruption establishments (ACEs) to "trace new cases and track all existing cases targeting eventual repatriation of unlawfully acquired offshore assets".

The institutions and agencies would "eventually recover the amount either through taxation or plea bargain or direct recovery/repatriation to the government exchequer".

According to documents available with Dawn.com, over the last three years, NAB, "under the supervision and assistance of ARU", recovered Rs389.5bn. It was a "drastic increase" from the total Rs295.6bn recovered in the 17-year period before then (from 2000 to 2017), according to the Cabinet Division yearbook.

Meanwhile, the FIA recovered Rs6.4bn in the last three years, of which 3.6bn was recovered in 2020.

The documents added that in light of various inquiry commissions set up by the federal government, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) established liabilities and made recoveries that were "off the charts".

The revenue body had identified taxes of Rs22.8bn on offshore assets, including properties in the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, and assets identified in the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, recovering Rs5.6bn in FY21.

Recoveries of Rs30bn were also directly attributed to the ARU, according to the documents.

They added that the Financial Monitoring Unit was also reinvigorated to ensure that it reported suspicious transactions to law enforcement agencies in a timely manner so they could combat money laundering in accordance with their respective laws.

"Assets Recovery Unit continues to liaise with the National Crime Agency of UK and other foreign governments to enter into legal instruments and MoUs to get the unlawfully acquired offshore assets repatriated to Pakistan."

The yearbook, however, clarified that the ARU does not directly recover the assets. Instead, it assists LEAs in the recovery.

The ARU was a big part of the PTI's manifesto and one of the first election promises to be fulfilled by former premier Imran.

It was set up by the ex-prime minister less than a month after assuming office. Initially, it was headed by the then-special adviser on interior and accountability Shahzad Akbar. However, Akbar resigned on January 24 this year and sources in the then-government claimed that Imran was unhappy with his aide's performance.

He was replaced by former National Accountability Bureau (NAB) director general Brig (retired) Musaddiq Abbasi two days later.

Throughout the PTI's tenure, the then-opposition, which has now formed a coalition government after ousting Imran through a no-confidence vote in April, had criticised the ARU and its chief, Akbar, demanding an audit of the organisation and the SAPM's resignation for "miserably failing" to recover the looted national wealth.

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