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Expats are taken for a ride at home

March 27, 2013

ISLAMABAD, March 26: Repeated instances of fraud and subsequent police inaction have dissuaded many overseas Pakistanis, including UK-based Mohammad Khalid, from investing in the country. The cases have also highlighted a "might makes right" culture in which power and influence sway police actions.

In 2006, Mohammad Khalid paid Rs1 million for two 500-square-yard plots in a housing society in Zone V, for which he received possession letters.

When he came back in 2011 and went to visit the plots, "the management of the housing society told me that they'd allotted both of them to someone else by mistake, and that there were no more vacant plots available."

While the housing society offered to refund the one million rupees, "the plots are now worth over Rs10 million," Mohammad Khalid said, adding the rupee has also been significantly devalued over the past five years. "So I've decided not to invest in Pakistan again."

His case is not atypical. A government officer, Mudassar Nazir, revealed that his expatriate brother, Babar, had loaned some money to a friend, who never paid him back.

"When we went to the Sabzi Mandi police station," Mudassar said, "the SHO said, 'Did you ask me before giving your friend money? You guys just create problems for the police.'"

This phenomenon is not uncommon: Police report that every month, two or three cases of million-rupee fraud against overseas Pakistanis are registered at different police stations in the city. In most cases, police take no action; in others, the complainants do not even bother to register an FIR, and simply decide not to invest in Pakistan in the future.

In some ways, Canada-based Shamsuz Zaman's case was typical. He gave Rs20 million to Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmed Billa, "who assured me that his son, Zahid, would invest it in a land business." Zahid failed to invest the money, and Shamsuz Zaman asked for it back. Brigadier Imtiaz "gave me Rs11 million. Then he sent a check for Rs9 million, but it bounced."

After what Shamsuz Zaman calls "a very long struggle," he managed to get Kohsar police to register an FIR, though even that failed to bring the respondent to the police station. "We can't arrest that kind of person," a police officer said. "The best we could do was an FIR," for which Shamsuz Zaman had to use "all his resources, including Canadian nationality."

Brigadier Imtiaz, a retired one-star general, was director general of the Intelligence Bureau from 1990 to 1993, and also served in the Inter-Services Intelligence. Requesting anonymity, the police officer claimed that Brigadier Imtiaz had been the "driving force" behind Operation Midnight Jackal, the 1989 attempt to destabilise the government of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"The police are helpless in this kind of case," the officer continued. "So we recommended that Shamsuz Zaman use some other channel to reach an agreement with the brigadier." Kohsar Station House Officer Hakim Khan added that the police had "not taken any step against Mr Billa."

A legal expert, Riasat Ali Azad, told Dawn that police generally do not take action against "influential personalities," for which, he said, there were two reasons. "Many times, police officers get transferred if they try to take action against the mighty ones," he said, giving the example of an Industrial Area superintendent who registered a case against a retired army officer in 2012 and was not reinstated until the Supreme Court took notice.

"The other reason is that the police try to oblige people who can be influential and work in their favour," he continued. "That way, they can get the appointments of their choice later on." This last factor, Azad said, was the most detrimental. "Political interference in appointments has to be eradicated to get better output from the police."

The defining factor in Shamsuz Zaman's case turned out to be media attention, which can turn a high profile into a liability rather than an asset. Conscious of his image and prestige, "the suspect sent the plaintiff a new, post-dated cheque," a police officer said.

Shamsuz Zaman confirmed that he had received a new cheque, dated March 27, 2013. "I hope that this cheque will not be dishonored," he said.