The federal cabinet decided on Tuesday to investigate the alleged corruption of the preceeding PTI-led government, which they said did not submit the recovered amount of Rs50 billion (around £180 million) from business tycoon Malik Riaz to the national exchequer.
The real estate tycoon’s funds were frozen by a UK agency in an investigation, which then ordered that the seized amount be transferred to the state of Pakistan.
“The previous government, after determining its share (of the recovered funds), returned it to Bahria Town’s Malik Riaz,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said during a press conference in Islamabad.
He was accompanied by Minister for Petroleum Musadik Malik, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister for Communication Asad Mehmood and Special Adviser to the PM Qamar Zaman Kaira.
The previous government developed new methods of corruption, said Sanaullah.
“The Rs50 billion that was to be received by the state of Pakistan were never collected.”
Musadik Malik said £180 million were frozen in the UK from various accounts tied to the business tycoon who owns Bahria Town. “The money was seized under the Economic Crimes Act.”
UK’s National Crime Agency, in 2019, agreed a £190 million settlement with the Riaz family after a frozen funds investigation. Following an out-of-court settlement with the property tycoon, the UK agency had said funds had to be returned to the government of Pakistan.
Where did the money go?
In 2019, the Bahria Town management agreed to pay Rs460 billion in lieu of the 16,896 acres it had taken over in Karachi’s Malir or Super Highway area for its massive housing project.
Of the £190 million, £140 million were transferred to the Supreme Court registrar’s account, said Shehzad Akbar, who was the government’s pointperson on corruption at that time.
The development came a day after the verdict by the UK crime agency. The remaining £50 million were to be returned after the sale of Riaz’s Hyde park property, which he had bought from the son of Nawaz Sharif.
Shehzad Akbar, in a press conference on December 6, 2019, said that he could not divulge why the amount was transferred to the Supreme Court registrar’s account instead of the state of Pakistan that was identified as the beneficiary.
“We [the government of Pakistan, NCA and Malik Riaz] have signed a deed of confidentiality. Therefore, I cannot comment more than what has already been presented in the official press releases of the government and the NCA,” he had said, deflecting the query.
“Is the Supreme Court not part of the government? So if the money goes to the apex court it means money comes to the state.”
It was suggested at the time that the amount had been re-routed to the Supreme Court to pay for the compensation amount that Malik Riaz had to give in return for the lands he took over for the Bahria Town Karachi project.
Previously, PML-N leaders have also claimed that the a large chunk of the amount was deposited in the accounts of Al-Qadir University Property Trust as a donation. They had claimed that Imran Khan, his wife Bushra Bibi, and her close friend and controversial figure Farah Khan, were trustees of the university which ‘existed only on paper’.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah repeated the claim, saying Al Qadir University was used to funnel the amount back to Malik Riaz.
The government of Pakistan should have been the beneficiary, but money was not deposited there, said Musadiq Malik. Instead, the money was transferred to the account of the Supreme Court registrar.
Later, the government asked for the money to be transferred to the federal government to be used in social welfare projects while the Sindh government demanded the same to be used in development projects.
“The money was returned to Bahria Town through forgery,” continued Musadiq Malik. He said the government not only kept details of the agreement secret from the people but also from its own Cabinet.
“On December 3, 2019, the Cabinet approved documents that were inside a closed envelope. Imran Khan, who pretended to be ‘honest and truthful’, waved the letter and asked members to approve,” continued Rana Sanuallah, claiming that contents of the letter had details of Malik Riaz’s deal with the government.
“When some of the members asked what was in the letter, a woman member said, ‘We will tell you but just approve it for now.’ A few days later, the details of the NCA verdict came out in the media,” he continued.
About the Rs50 billion, he said it was revealed that the amount had been frozen in the UK with the order that it be returned to the state of Pakistan.
At that time, Shehzad Akbar was was the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability and was in-charge of the Assets Recovery Unit.
“He was working as a broker, a middleman for the previous government and managed their matters,” said Sanaullah on Akbar while resorting to colorful language.
He said it was decided then that their share would be Rs5 billion of the Rs50 billion with the rest of the money to be returned to Malik Riaz.
“Following the Cabinet’s approval on December 3, 2019, Shehzad adjusted the Rs50 billion against the liabality of Bahria Town,” continued Sanaullah.
On December 12, 2019, he said, the amount was adjusted against Bahria Town Karachi’s liabilities.
“As part of the agreement, Bahria Town donated 458 kanals of land to Al-Qadir Trust,” he said, implying it was done as payment for return of the £180-190 million that were frozen by the UK government with the order for transfer to the government of Pakistan.
The land donated to Al Qadir Trust was worth Rs530 million at the time, he said.
The interior minister added the agreement regarding Bahria Town had the signatures of Bushra Bibi, the then premier Imran Khan’s wife. “It was the first instance where there were signatures of the Bahria Town representative and the former first lady, who along with Imran Khan is the trustee of Al-Qadir Trust,” he emphasised.
He said the people who established Al-Qadir Trust were the culprits. “It’s all connected and was done to benefit the Bahria Town owner.”
‘Part of the same chain’
Rana Sanaullah said 240 kanals of land in Islamabad’s high-end Banigala area were transferred to Farah Khan, who is also known as Farah Gogi and Farhat Shahzadi.
He added she fled Pakistan to escape corruption investigation. The close friend of the wife, who the PML-N says serves as her frontwoman, left for Dubai shortly after Imran Khan’s ouster as the premier.
On the PML-N-led government’s earlier statement to bring Farah Khan back to Pakistanr to face corruption charges, he said the Cabinet committee would conduct its inquiry and send the findings to the National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency. “If they think there is enough evidence to prosecute, a challan will be filed.”
Shrouded in secrecy
The PML-N cabinet members said the PTI-led government did not have the authoritiy to sign the agreement involving Malik Riaz and the UK crime agency or to keep it confidenital.
“It was an out-of-court settlement not a defence deal or about the nuclear programme. We don’t even know who represented Pakistan in the agreement,” said the interior minister.
He said when the moneny was traced, it was found in the Bahria Town account set up for the fine that the real estate developers had to pay as per the Supreme Court ruling.
“The PTI government returned the confiscated money back to the person (Malik Riaz) who was fined. This is the reality,” said Sanaullah.
Musadik Malik compared the ‘confidential agreement’ to the foreign conspiracy letter that Imran Khan has repeatedly blamed for his ouster.
He also cited procedural violations in the approval of the confidential agreement by the Cabinet. Furthermore, he cited rules, stating that the Federal Board of Revenue had to be involved as the funds were to be repatriated to the exchequer.
On the by-polls in Daska, that resulted in massive accusations of rigging and an ECP inquiry, he said it was orchestrated by the PTI-led government. The report of the ECP inquiry committee stated the returning and district returning officers were to blame for the rigging. It also named PTI leader Firdous Ashiq Awan, then a special aide to the Punjab chief minister.
The interior minister said the current government wouldn’t interfere in the ECP’s work as it is an independent body. He added those involved in rigging should be given exemplary punishment.
Rana Sanaullah said the result was changed by officials, with 20 returning officers taken to a farmhouse. “The Punjab chief minister (Usman Buzdar), provincial government and the inspector general of police were involved.”
He added those who were suspended for their involvement were re-posted without any questions asked.
He said the returning officer, who was at the centre of the controversy, had been suspended, adding that a government delegation would meet the ECP in two days.
‘Using religion as a tool’
During the press conference, Maulana Asad Mahmood said that Imran Khan accused everyone of corruption to take attention away from his own actions.
He questioned Imran Khan’s claim that he paid for his Banigala residence using loans from ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith. Imran Khan had also said that one of his London properties, a flat in a high-end district, was a gift from her.
Mahmood, who is part of the country’s leading religious-political party, said that Imran Khan used religion as a tool to further his popularity.
He vowed to present evidence to courts to prove the ‘damage’ Imran Khan caused to the country’s institutions.