Two London-based properties tied to prominent Pakistani families have raised questions about Britain’s “awkward status as haven for political elites and their fortunes”, said a report published in The Guardian on Sunday.
The story mentions the Sharif family’s residence in Avenfield House on Park Lane, and the mansion on Hyde Park Place linked to Bahria Town owner Malik Riaz, which was unearthed during the National Crime Agency’s settlement with the property tycoon in 2019.
The report noted that Mr Riaz’s property, valued in 2019 at GBP50 million, was at the centre of the NCA settlement, and that the fate of the money at the heart of that settlement had become a matter of controversy in Pakistan. It noted that the property was sold in early 2022 for £38.5m, and that the money was also returned to Pakistan by the NCA.
It quoted anti-corruption campaigns as saying that the turmoil in Pakistan raised serious questions for the UK’s NCA and its role in obtaining funds from the settlement for the benefit of Mr Riaz.
The Guardian story centres on luxury London properties belonging to Malik Riaz and Nawaz Sharif, raises concerns about UK as ‘haven for elite’
“The chaos in Pakistan also raises serious questions for the UK itself. Khan’s arrest and the turmoil of the past decade in Pakistani politics are deeply entangled with the movement of money between Islamabad and London, and Britain’s awkward status as haven for political elites and their fortunes,” the report said, adding that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, “London’s role as a store of wealth has come under scrutiny as never before”.
Aside from Russian oligarchs, the report said activists argued that London was a hub for political elite from all over the world. It pointed to the properties linked to the Sharifs’ and Riazs’ as a symbol of London’s position as a ‘haven’.
The Riaz family through lawyers was quoted in the story as saying that the family owned other property in the UK that was declared to Pakistan’s tax authorities.
To a question the paper raised about why those properties were not included in the NCA settlement, the agency said, “Our international corruption unit is dedicated to tracing and recovering the proceeds of grand corruption. The pursuit of assets can be complicated and protracted, and must consider the likelihood of cooperation from the affected state as well as associated law enforcement action by international partners. We will continue to use all the criminal and civil tools available to pursue the proceeds of corruption.”
The story then talked about Avenfield House, where the Sharif family have reportedly brought together four expensive apartments to create a single flat.
It also questioned Nawaz Sharif’s ability to remain in London, and quoted anti-corruption watchdog Spotlight on Corruption as saying in a statement: “The fact that Sharif was able to escape justice in Pakistan by coming to the UK, then stayed on running businesses and directing political activities here is the real immigration scandal. There is clearly one rule for corrupt politicians and another for genuine refugees when it comes to the UK immigration system.”
Anti-corruption campaigners say the stories of the two properties show how the UK has “questions to answer on its approach to investigating unexplained wealth stashed in London by the world’s political elite”
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2023