Finally, a summons

The 190-million-pound question

Finally, an inquiry into perhaps the biggest case of alleged corruption of the PTI’s stint at the federal government. If the figures are taken into account, it might well be the biggest case of corruption of any dispensation ever since democracy returned to the country in 2008.

It really was a bizarre incident. In 2019, the then prime minister’s accountability czar had tabled a sealed envelope containing a non-disclosure agreement in a meeting of the federal cabinet and asked the latter to sign off on it. Some befuddled ministers did remark how they were being asked to sign off on something they had absolutely no idea about. It had later transpired that the agreement pertained to an asset forfeiture case by the UK’s National Crime Agency, who sent the Pakistani government GBP 190 million settlement it had reached with property magnate Malik Riaz, who then tweeted that he used this amount to pay the Supreme Court as per the settlement deal that he had arrived upon with the court over the Bahria Town Karachi case.

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Why this money was given to him, and not kept by the government, as is the case when the UK’s NCA sends such ill-gotten gains to the respective countries that were defrauded, under what arrangement was this money used to settle Mr Riaz’s case with the Supreme Court, and was the money transferred to the Supreme Court’s account? We know none of this, because the deal was mired in secrecy, and the PTI’s corruption watchdog, Shehzad Akbar, who has since quit the government before the no-confidence vote that had led to the government’s fall, said that the non-disclosure agreement prevents him from giving any details.

If the sheer amount concerned is staggering, then the double standards of the national corruption watchdog, the infamous NAB, is even greater. The body, which has been known to jail honest civil servants and politicians for, at times, not dotting the Is and crossing the Ts, left this absolutely opaque transfer of a massive amount more or less untouched.

This brings into focus the immense power and immunity enjoyed by some sections of the nation’s business elite. Politicians, civil servants are fair game and, every now and then, even the military is criticised – for political expediency, if not principle – but some of these titans of commerce and industry get away nigh completely unscathed.

Toshakhana records are being dug up to be used against the previous government, but the relatively lower-hanging fruit of this massive multimillion pound, whose potential of being weaponised by the other political parties is much higher, has more or less been untouched. This conspicuous silence by the other two major parties is suspicious and points yet again to the nexus between politicians and big business in the country.

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The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]

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