Smoke and mirrors

Published May 26, 2023

WHETHER there is sufficient evidence to conclusively prove a quid pro quo between Imran Khan and Malik Riaz in the Al Qadir Trust case is for the investigation to determine.

However, Mr Khan’s version of events surrounding the UK-based National Crime Agency’s £190m settlement with the property tycoon — which is at the heart of the aforementioned case — is another story.

In his video address on Wednesday, the former premier was at pains to give an innocuous account of his government’s decision to hand back to Mr Riaz the millions recovered from him by the NCA, which investigates money laundering and finances derived from criminal activity in the UK and abroad.

It was a disingenuous attempt to pull the wool over the nation’s eyes. Mr Khan said his government was “given a choice” — either keep the settlement confidential and get the money back to Pakistan, or undertake litigation in the UK (presumably to prove it was ill-gotten gains in order to bring it back).

As Pakistan had already, according to him, “wasted $100m in overseas litigation”, they decided on the first option. But the million-dollar question is, why did the PTI government allow the individual from whom the money had been forfeited to benefit from its return?

Moreover, it would have been the NCA’s job to initiate criminal proceedings against Mr Riaz, if it chose to do so. Its website says: “Parties may (and indeed often are encouraged to) settle civil proceedings without coming to court”.

Also, in cases where suspected proceeds of crime are found to have originated overseas, the NCA returns the stolen money to the affected states. It is also worth asking why Mr Khan did not choose to enlighten his cabinet members who, at a meeting in 2019, were asked to give their consent to the contents of a sealed envelope presented by his aide on accountability Shahzad Akbar.

That they did so can hardly be termed an informed decision; and to put the onus on the “entire cabinet”, which is how Mr Khan styled it in his video address, is rather specious. Resultantly, the £140m that was recovered — minus £50m at which the 1 Hyde Park Place was valued — went into the Supreme Court account set up to receive the real estate tycoon’s civil liabilities in Pakistan. This includes Rs460bn the apex court had ordered Mr Riaz’s firm, Bahria Town, to pay as settlement for thousands of acres it had illegally acquired in Karachi.

In one respect, however, Mr Khan is spot on. He has rightly questioned the credibility of the Al Qadir Trust case without investigating the other party to the alleged quid pro quo, Mr Riaz. Instead, the government is assiduously avoiding even the mention of the extremely well-connected real estate developer’s name.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2023

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