Lessons from the multi-million pound Malik Riaz settlement

Arab News

The United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency last week agreed to a settlement of GBP 190 million with Malik Riaz of Bahria Town fame regarding an investigation into his wealth holding in the UK, which is believed to be derived from corruption.

This development is important on several counts. The PTI government had been on a mission since day one of assuming power, to prove that they remain true to their election promise of bringing looted and stashed-away wealth back into the country.

The core of the PTI manifesto rests on curbing corruption in all its forms. In this case, there were naysayers in the legal fraternity who claimed on popular media channels that legal complications surrounding repatriation of capital from abroad would make it difficult for the PTI government to make good on their promise. Many have now been proven wrong.

Let us now turn to less clear issues within this evolving development. The PTI government claims they have an agreement with the UK’s National Crime Agency, to not share details of the case. It is unclear why details of any such case based on corruption cannot be shared. And, why did the government of Pakistan agree to such an arrangement in the first place?

In the end, the government was able to take credit for a process which did not deliver the true value of the wealth that had been allegedly ‘looted’ from the country.

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed

The government’s claim that Pakistan’s looted wealth is being brought back from a foreign account for the first time in history has been challenged by none other than Malik Riaz himself.

Additionally, a federal minister has come on record and stated that it was decided in a Cabinet meeting that no Cabinet member would comment on the case.

It is obvious, there seems to be a soft corner for Riaz, as the press release by the government states: ‘The settlement is a civil matter and does not represent a finding of guilt,’ and that the proceedings ‘were against the funds themselves, and not against any named individual.’

An international watchdog has now demanded that both governments, UK and Pakistan, reveal details in a more transparent manner.

What makes this case even more interesting is that Riaz already had to cater to Bahria Town’s settlement with the Supreme Court of Pakistan. At the same time, Riaz knew very well that he was also losing ground with the crime agency in the UK.

When Riaz entered into a settlement with UK agencies, he knew full well that this money would reach the bank account of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, held with the National Bank of Pakistan.

In the end, the government was able to take credit for a process that did not deliver the true value of the wealth that had been allegedly ‘looted’ from the country. The settlement with the Supreme Court should have been over and above the amount which was declared by UK authorities as settlement money in the UK.

So who are the winners and losers in this story? Clearly, Riaz emerges a winner. He is not only returning less than the amount he actually owes to the state of Pakistan but will not face any criminal proceedings locally — or answer to how the money earned through alleged bribery and corruption in Pakistan landed up abroad. What message does this give to others like him?

First, it is possible to come out clean after a life-time of wealth accumulation through illicit means. Second, that the entire democratically elected cabinet and parliament of Pakistan will protect you. Third, you may continue to live just the way you are and may even continue the same practices.

Should these conclusions worry some of us? At some level, yes. The question to ask here is: what kind of society do we want? Are we doing enough at an individual level to question the government?

These conclusions also have a broader context. No single government alone may be in a position to challenge the way international financial flows function. There has to be a global effort to strengthen the regime which governs the transfer of liquid and other forms of assets.

The advanced economies of the world have a bigger role to play here. For a start, we can at least commend the PTI government for demonstrating that bringing money back into the country is not impossible, even though this case was shrouded by a lack of transparency.

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