Shady deal

Published May 11, 2023

THE elephant in the room cannot, and should not, be ignored. At the heart of the multibillion-rupee Al-Qadir Trust corruption case in which Imran Khan was arrested on Tuesday is property tycoon Malik Riaz and his £190m settlement with the UK’s National Crime Agency after a ‘dirty money’ probe into his assets in that country. The NCA investigates money laundering and finances derived from criminal activity in the UK and abroad; in case of the latter, it returns the stolen money to the affected countries. But in this instance, the state of Pakistan itself chose not to be the beneficiary. Instead, the PTI government at the time, despite its self-righteous claims about holding the corrupt to account and bringing back ill-gotten gains from abroad, allowed the individual from whom the money had been forfeited to benefit from its return. When £140m of the forfeited amount was repatriated to Pakistan, it was put towards Mr Riaz’s pending land settlement dues totalling Rs460bn in the country. The liability was imposed by the Supreme Court after his real estate firm Bahria Town was held to have illegally acquired thousands of acres of public land in Karachi. The court had spelled out a specific schedule for this historic amount — nearly $3bn at the time — to be paid in instalments into a Supreme Court account created for the purpose. But whether these instalments are being paid accordingly is shrouded in a level of secrecy more suited to highly classified information concerning national security than a matter about which the public has a right to know. Perhaps the Supreme Court itself can throw some light on the matter.

Meanwhile, the coalition government is assiduously focusing on one part of the story alone: that which avoids any mention or involvement of Mr Riaz, whose links among the power elite are well known. This aspect of the saga pertains to the alleged deal whereby “a property tycoon” — referred to as such even in NAB’s press release — gifted the former premier and his wife billions of rupees and hundreds of kanals of land for their Al-Qadir Trust in return for Mr Khan smoothing the way for him to benefit from the forfeited millions. The first question to be asked here, and one that should have been asked long ago, is why such a travesty of justice happened at all.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2023

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