ISLAMABAD: Ex-prime minister’s aide on accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar has revealed that the PTI cabinet had approved that the settlement of crime proceeds of £140 million of property tycoon Malik Riaz be kept secret as it was a requirement of UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
Mr Akbar made this disclosure in a petition seeking permission to testify through video link from the Pakistan High Commission, London, in response to the call up notice issued to him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with the said settlement and removal of his name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
The Islamabad High Court’s division bench comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Arbab Mohammad Tahir took up the petition and issued notices to NAB and the federal government.
The Public Accounts Committee had grilled NAB’s chairman in April for giving ‘undue favour’ to the property tycoon by allowing him to pay Rs460 billion fine from the £140m proceeds that the NCA had returned to Pakistan. The fine pertained to Mr Riaz’s housing project on Karachi’s Superhighway in 2019.
Shahzad seeks court’s help for online interview with NAB, removal of his name from no-fly list
As per NAB’s record, “The amount recovered from the Riaz family in London in November 2019 was approximately £140m. All of this was transferred to an account administered by the Supreme Court…out of the £190m settlement, the NCA returned £140m, while the remaining was the value of the immovable property confiscated from Riaz, which was yet to be received”.
Mr Akbar had reportedly obtained the cabinet’s approval in 2019 to dispose of the amount received from the NCA, which investigates money laundering and illicit finances derived from criminal activity and returns the stolen money to affected states.
In his petition, Mr Akbar stated, “The settlement is pertaining to a matter in the United Kingdom, which falls within the control and jurisdiction of the Law Enforcement Agencies of the UK”. He argued that NAB initiated a politically motivated inquiry pertaining to a civil settlement in which the federal government was not even a party. The petition mentioned that the actual party to the settlement was the NCA. It argued that the transaction, which was being made the subject matter of the call up notice, did not come within the purview of the jurisdiction of NAB as the federal government of Pakistan was not a party in the initial settlement.
It stated, “The petitioner also served as the chairman [of] Assets Recovery Unit and being head prepared a summary for the then federal cabinet to inform the cabinet of the matter and to sign off a non-disclosure agreement, which was a requirement of the NCA as ARU had initially assisted NCA in seeking Asset Freezing Order by providing requisite information from Pakistan”.
The former adviser said that in response to NAB’s call up notice of Aug 2, he requested that he be interviewed through video link, Skype, Whatsapp, Zoom or any other online means available. He even offered to attend the inquiry through video link from the Pakistan High Commission, London if NAB so preferred, the petition stated, adding that on Aug 15 again, he requested for the interview to be conducted online, but to no avail. The petitioner believed “if the intent [of NAB] was to gather information and to meet the end of justice, NAB would have acceded to the request for an interview to be conducted online”.
He said the PML-N government in his absence from the country was taking illegal punitive actions against him by placing his name on the ECL.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2022