ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Tuesday urged lawmakers to allow the top civilian investigation agency the same access to government records as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
While briefing a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Interior, FIA Additional Director General Basharat Mehmood Shehzad also said that lack of access to records had resulted in delay in following up money laundering cases.
“FIA should have the same access to government records as NAB has,” he said, pointing out that amendments were required to the anti-money laundering law to ensure this.
Shehzad noted that NAB had the authority to take records from any institution but if the FIA required records from a bank, they had to take permission from a sessions judge. He said that this could take up to months and sometimes the sessions judge denies FIA access to the records.
In March, a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to amend the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Act, 2010, with stricter punishments to be imposed in an effort to bring individuals involved in money laundering to book.
A member of the NA standing committee said that if there was no limit to the authority of NAB, which he described as operating under a ‘black law’, FIA too should get the records.
He asked what difficulty the FIA faced if there was already a process for obtaining records. The FIA official responded by explaining that their investigations could be sped up if records that took six months to acquire were acquired in six days.
The FIA official also briefed the committee on benami and fake accounts. Shehzad said that in reality, no account was ‘benami’ as it was under someone’s name.
He said that there were two types of accounts: fake and benami.
According to the FIA official, a fake account is registered to a person who has died while their account was still active. On the other hand, a benami account is one where the account holders’ transactions do not match their income.
In the case of benami accounts, the individual whose name the account is in is neither the beneficiary nor the operator of the accounts. Shehzad said it remains to be seen what punishment laws can impose on bank managers and staff who are involved in this activity.
He pointed out cases where accounts were opened in the name of unwitting of ‘chai walas’ [tea sellers] and ‘falooda walas’ [ice-cream sellers] who had never been to the bank. He noted that the complicity of bankers in opening such accounts could not be ignored.
The FIA official said that in anti-money laundering investigations, banks are supposed to report such accounts and transactions. He said that in previous years, close to 500 such cases were reported to relevant institutions.
Shehzad also asked why no action had so far been taken against the banks that were found involved operating benami accounts.
He added that in each of the FIA’s inquiries, at least one or two banks “were certainly involved” and many times it was discovered found that the “bank presidents were also involved”, who gave individuals on lower management strata the authority to do whatever they wanted.
The standing committee asked FIA for a report on investigations against housing societies. Committee chairman Raja Khurram Nawaz regretted that many “poor people” have made deposits in housing societies and stand to lose significantly if they fail.
He asked about the number of investigations opened against housing societies as well as the number of people who had been arrested for fraudulent dealings.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb expressed dissatisfaction with the FIA briefing.
She said that the briefing was not something on the basis of which they could examine the performance of the FIA over the past five years, and added that instead a list of all those who are being investigated since the time the FIA was created should be presented.
Aurangzeb said that the media only discusses the cases of parliamentarians.
“If FIA focused on its capability and facilities, there wouldn’t be a need for NAB,” the PML-N spokesperson said, adding that the agency should also look at the standards employed by investigative agencies in other countries.
“Look at the example of Hassan and Hussain Nawaz’s case,” she said, adding that the case was sent to Britain “but the allegations could not be proven there”.