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BEGGARING PAKISTAN THROUGH “DEMOCRACY”

When criminals or the corrupt disguise the original ownership and control of the proceeds of criminal conduct by making them appear to have derived from a legitimate source, this is known as money-laundering. Billions of dollars of criminally derived money is laundered through financial institutions every year globally, however criminal money can be laundered without assistance of the financial sector. The nature of the services and products offered by the financial services industry (namely managing, controlling and possessing money and property belonging to others) means that it is vulnerable to abuse by money-launderers.

Financial crimes related to narcotics trafficking, terrorism, smuggling, tax evasion, and corruption remain a significant problem. This is compounded by respectable bankers becoming part of the process, either through greed or in many cases threats and intimidation.  Working around the world with partners in the public and private sector to counter corruption and other financial crimes, and to improve the quality of governance, the Basel Institute on Governance, an independent not-for-profit competence centre in an August 2017 report placed Pakistan on the 46th spot on a list of 146 countries that face significant money laundering/terrorism financing risks. The US State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report in early 2017 estimated that around 10 billion dollar per annum is money laundered by Pakistanis. Billions are shipped off every year in by criminals and corrupt individuals in an effort to escape paying taxes and avoid govt scrutiny.

Anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) in line with Pakistan’s action plan agreed with Financial Action Task Force (FATF), continues to be a serious problem. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) “Partnering Against Corruption Initiative” (PACI) Fall Meeting held in Oct last year in Geneva agreed that without conforming to international standards there can be no effective implementation of laws. Without adequate proof of assets and money trail it is almost impossible to prove a crime in court when our methods and tools of investigation in the emerging countries remain outdated. Developed countries, where most of the ill-gotten money/assets reside, pontificate endlessly about adhering to the “rule of law”, where is the morality of not practicing what they preach by not cooperating in implementing the laws on their own statute books? Notwithstanding that effective anti-money laundering law might be in place, corrupt politicians and others, criminals included, will find loopholes in the banking legal system around the world and banks willing to handle their ill-gotten money and bribery payments in safe havens. They then set-up anonymous off-shore companies and trusts that allow them to hide their identity.  This is done without technically breaking any rules to access the global financial system with almost impunity. Failing in their due diligence they are complicit in corrupt practices in the transfer and deposit of stolen funds.  Millions have been stashed abroad with no questions, whether tax was paid at its source in Pakistan. Many expensive apartments in London are owned by known white-collar criminals comprising former dictators, bank defaulters, tax evaders, money-launderers, politicians, etc.

On July 6 disqualified Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment in jail in the Avenfield Apartments corruption reference by a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) accountability court, Maryam was awarded 8-year imprisonment while Maryam husband, Capt (Retd) Muhammad Safdar was handed 8-year imprisonment. The court also disqualified all three from holding any public office for 10 years or availing themselves of bank loans for the same period under Section 15 of the NAO. Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz are presently in London and are scheduled to return to Lahore on Friday, July 13. Sure Lahore is considered to be the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s stronghold and preparations are being made by the party leadership to give a “historic welcome” to Nawaz Sharif and Maryam. It is more than obvious that this is going to be more a show of political power than anything else. The PML-N wants nothing but a confrontation with law enforcement agencies and then plays an innocent victim by claiming denial of Nawaz Sharif right to speak to his followers. The PML-N is playing a very dangerous game, the govt must not fall into the trap. With the situation likely to get out of hand, the alternative could be to divert the flight from Islamabad to any other city than Lahore, arrest the duo and whisk them away to Islamabad, all this without making it public.

PML-N leadership claims the ousted PM is extremely popular in Pakistan, brazen facedly declaring that Nawaz Sharif has the mandate of 200 million Pakistanis, an outright lie in the 2013 elections PML (N) obtained 14.9 million or 32% of 46 million out of 86 million who voted as opposed to PTI’s 7.7 (17%) and PPP’s 6.8 million (15%).  PML (N) should have got 84, PTI 42 and PPP 37 seats respectively but PML (N) disproportionally got 53 seats more and PTI and PPP 13 and 6 less.  Having a million votes more PTI got four seats less than PPP. The “first past the post system” does not ascertain the real majority, the “run-off” measure does.  Negating “proportional representation” bedevils good governance as has now been proven with Nawaz Sharif being sentenced to serve time for his shenanigans, including money laundering.

If popularity is to be taken as the yardstick to measure the strength of democracy, some of the world’s most notorious criminals and drug lords were extremely popular with their countrymen. Building roads, motorways, etc is all very well, that is what you were voted in for but this does not give anyone the licence to loot the nation and indulge in corrupt practices. Is this the kind of democracy that we yearn for where there is no rule of law and no accountability?  Accountability sits at the heart of the democratic process, if accountability is lost once the winners step into the governance mode, we will have a democracy in name only, a farce.

Branded Public Enemy No. 1 by the Chicago Crime Commission Al Capone got 11 years for tax dodging, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman who faces trial in the US is accused of running a global cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel El Chapo played a central role in a decade-long Mexican drug war in which more than 100,000 people have died. Guzman raked in $14 billion, his network spanning four continents. Wanted by the govts of USA, Mexico and Interpol, he was extradited by the Mexican govt to the US to face criminal charges there related to his leadership of the Sinaloa cartel. One of the most wanted criminals on the planets, Guzman Guzmán took pains to burnish his image in Mexico, residents tell stories of his sudden appearances suddenly at village fiestas, doling out rolls of cash to adoring crowds. Most viewed him as a leader and a hero because “he started from below, very poor, a peasant, and he helped people”. He built concrete roads and would pay hospital bills for treatment of the sick. In contrast, the govt often failed to provide even basic infrastructure for those in poor, remote villages. Another darling of the people was Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar whose  ambition and ruthlessness made him one of the wealthiest, most powerful and most violent criminals of all time. Entering the cocaine trade in the early 1970s Escobar formed the Medellin Cartel. His popularity was due to sponsoring charity projects and soccer clubs, he built houses and cared for the poor. Seen by many as a Robin Hood figure, he was killed by Colombian police in 1993.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur have been banned from travelling abroad by the Supreme Court (SC) in the wake of recent revelations in a fake bank accounts case. That they are accused of using 29 such accounts for suspicious transactions and money laundering amounting to Rs 35 billion, this is only tip of Zardari’s illegal iceberg. The vast assets Asif Zardari (friends and family) have acquired through illegally acquired income transferred abroad are well known but in different companies and names. Then consider the assets Asif Zardari had declared, this comes out of Haris Anderson’s fairy tales. One feels very sorry for my good friend Hussain Lawai, it is his misfortune to have become the banker of a vile creature like Zardari. Unlike drug lords Chapo and Escobar Zardari has done nothing for the people of Sindh, he has only enriched himself.  Because of new international laws Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari etc cannot camouflage their assets behind offshore companies anymore. UAE National Mr Nasser Lootah is a very nice man who has been a gracious host to Pakistan politicians and bureaucrats out of power for decades in Dubai.  While he is just a frontman for Zardari in Summit Bank I am sure he would not like to run afoul of UAE laws and money-laundering. An honourable person who is very rich in his own right, Nasser Lootah is not likely to lie about Zardari’s money-laundering. Why not the SC ask him how much is his investment in Summit Bank and how much is Zardari’s?

Zardari and Faryal Talpur have been summoned by the FIA on July 11 and by the SC on July 12.  If the subsequent investigation proceeds in the manner of the Panama JIT, Zardari friends and family will face a far worse fate than Nawaz Sharif and family.  A change is definitely happening in Pakistan where the mighty and powerful are being charged for their crimes, unheard of not too long ago. Having beggared Pakistan through their version of democracy, they will be punished for their despicable crimes against the people of Pakistan.

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