Recouping ill-gotten wealth
The task force set up by the new government for bringing back all ill-gotten wealth from abroad has started functioning. It is headed by the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Mirza Shazad Akbar and comprises, among others, representatives from National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency, Accountant General Pakistan Revenues, Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Federal Bureau of Revenue, Law Ministry and Foreign Office. The main purpose of this task force is to maintain coordination among various departments for bringing back laundered money.
Although some legal experts are of the opinion that this is not an easy task, however, the tightening of global fiscal laws against the scourge of money laundering like the Financial Crimes Act of the UK and World Bank’s Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative have improved the prospects of retrieving the looted money stashed away into offshore bank accounts abroad and invested in real state. The success of the governments of Indonesia and Philippine to bring back money from offshore accounts and immovable assets negates the pessimistic legal opinion. Likewise, the notion that this exercise by new government will create uncertainty among the business community is not true. The honest business leaders will appreciate it. The global environment against money laundering is different from the one that existed during President Musharraf era. Moreover, he was suffering from legitimacy syndrome. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan Banking Council had pleaded for tax amnesty on offshore accounts and assets, which the last PML-N government announced and the caretaker government extended its deadline for another one month. The recent amendment in Financial Crimes Act to prevent investment in “Benami” immovable assets enhances the probability of bringing back money from abroad.
Mirza Shazad Akbar has been Public Prosecutor in the National Accountability Bureau and if the task of recouping ill-gotten wealth had been impossible he would have not accepted the responsibility by assuming the charge of Special Assistant to the Prime Minster. He has dispelled the perception that bringing unlawful money from abroad is impossible. He said Mutual Legal assistance request will be made in an effective manner.
Bulk of the money laundering has been done by the political and business elite through banking system and the State Bank of Pakistan stayed on the sideline as spectator to avoid political pressure. The arrest of Hussain Lawai, President Summit Bank and two other executives of Sindh Bank and UBL expose the dirty role of banks in money laundering and inaction of the SBP.
Earlier, a committee led by the Governor SBP told the Supreme Court that National accountability Bureau had so far generated 433 Mutual Legal assistance Requests while information has been received in 152 instances. The bureau had so far recovered $ 22 million from foreign jurisdiction. The success rate of recovery can be increased by engaging professionally competent Pakistani legal teams instead of relying on the foreign legal experts hired on exorbitant amount of fee.
Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf government is also signing bilateral agreements with important countries for bringing back money sent abroad illegally. Pakistan will then have access to information about people whose money is lying in Swiss Banks by next month. It would be worthwhile to study the Indonesia and Philippine models which will enable the task force to do its job more efficiently. Persuasive method and incentives offered for making the offshore wealth can encourage the people to bring back money from abroad.