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Watchdog asks UK for transparency in tycoon’s settlement

Watchdog asks UK for transparency in tycoon’s settlement

LONDON: Days after the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) announced a settlement agreement resulting from an investigation into funds tied to property tycoon and real estate developer Malik Riaz, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) noted the “scant information” of the arrangement and called on the British government to honour its commitment to returning proceeds of corruption “transparently and accountably”.

In a press release issued after the NCA announcement, TI’s UK chapter said it welcomes the news that the country’s law enforcement has secured a substantial amount of funds for return to the people of Pakistan and acknowledged that the size of funds in this case is a change from previous efforts which shows the importance of changes introduced by the UK’s Criminal Finances Act 2017.

However, the statement issued by the TI’s director of policy Duncan Hames also said: “Although there is scant information about the specifics of the case, returning seized funds to the country of origin, as is proposed, is an obligation under the UN Convention Against Corruption. We call upon the UK government to honour its commitment to returning proceeds of corruption transparently and accountably.”

Mr Hames also noted that TI is “unsurprised to find that there is a company registered in the British Virgin Islands that is connected with this case”.

Official notes that Transparency International is ‘unsurprised to find that there is a company registered in the British Virgin Islands that is connected with this case’

“Our research has found the secrecy provided by this jurisdiction is a magnet for those with crimes and assets to hide. The British Virgin Islands should follow the example provided by other UK Overseas Territories, such as the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar, and commit to revealing the true owners of companies on their shores.”

The anti-graft organisation’s statement came in response to the NCA’s settlement agreement with Malik Riaz earlier this week, in which more than £190 million of assets, including a £50m mansion overlooking Hyde Park in London, have been seized from Mr Riaz after a settlement in probe dubbed by international papers as a “dirty money” investigation.

The press release issued by the NCA mentions that nine freezing orders were secured against Mr Riaz but fails to say what prompted the investigation and why the agreement was made out of court.

The NCA routinely publishes news of successful investigations and seizures on its website and social media accounts, and often includes the names of those being investigated. They have also in the past made public details of the probe, such as why the money was seized, how long the investigation continued and what explanation the individual in question offered for the accumulation of their assets.

In its press release about Mr Riaz’s settlement — the 190 million pounds recovery which is the agency’s largest yet — however, no such details were provided. In fact, the NCA officials have responded to several questions sent by Dawn without more details citing “legal reasons”.

In a short statement posted to Twitter following the NCA’s announcement, Mr Riaz said: “Some habituals are twisting the NCA report 180 degrees to throw mud at me. I sold our legal & declared property in the UK to pay 190m £ to Supreme Court [of] Pakistan against Bahria Town Karachi.” He added in his tweet: “[The] NCA press release says the settlement is a civil matter and does not represent a finding of guilt. I am a proud Pakistan[i] and I will remain until I breath[e] my last.”

In Pakistan, the federal government’s agreement with Mr Riaz has also raised questions, as some of the repatriated funds will be paid towards the penalty Mr Riaz owes to the Supreme Court in the Bahria Town Karachi case.

Members of the cabinet, too, have avoided talking about the return of this staggering sum citing “legal reasons” or “lack of information”. Shahzad Akbar, the PM’s aide on accountability, has said that the government has signed a confidentiality agreement with Mr Riaz.

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry on Friday said during a Samaa TV talk show that the government had two options when confronted with Mr Riaz’s case. “We could either have gone for a criminal trial and said we don’t want the funds we want a trial. That would have taken six or seven years and may result in a 10-year conviction but not yielded funds. So we decided to go for a plea bargain, so it is better that this $250 million comes back to Pakistan now.”

When pressed by PML-N’s Musadiq Malik, another guest on the show, as to what crime was committed in Pakistan which has resulted in a plea bargain and repatriation of funds to public, Fawad avoided the answer but said this had been done under Section 9 of NAB law.

“The money that was sent from PK to UK and is unaccounted for has been repatriated. We have signed an MoU to cooperate on these issues.”

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2019

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