Thursday, November 9, 2017
Business Recorder editorial Nov 7, 2017
Non-accountability Reportedly, the General Musharraf-created National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had initially been charged with tracking down the offshore assets of more than 200 retired Generals, bureaucrats, business people, politicians and their families, and the recovery of such assets compiled through corruption. NAB engaged a foreign detective agency, Broadsheet LLC, registered in the Isle of Man (notorious as one of the safe havens for the wealthy of the world to park their money), to track down the offshore assets of those on the list and recover them. Unfortunately, this engagement ended in litigation in the Council of International Arbitration, with Broadsheet claiming breach of agreement and non-payment of its fees (20 percent of all recoveries, irrespective of whether these occurred because of Broadsheet’s or NAB’s efforts). Broadsheet claims the information it shared with NAB was used as leverage for brokering plea bargain deals with the targets. In 2014 NAB hired an international law firm, Appleby, to get expert advice on how to handle the international arbitration case. Later, another company, International Assets Recovery (IAR) was hired by NAB to do what Broadsheet had initially been hired for. Whereas Broadsheet was handed a list of over 200 prominent names from the top echelons of Pakistan’s elite, it is not known how many targets were assigned to IAR. As for Broadsheet’s claims, it says NAB entered into plea bargain agreements with several of the targets, using information supplied by Broadsheet, without informing the latter or paying its agreed fees. Broadsheet quotes some examples to substantiate its claims that it suffered losses because of expenditures incurred on tracking down the targets’ offshore assets. In one instance, Broadsheet managed to have $ five million frozen in the Isle of Jersey (another notorious offshore safe haven) belonging to an identified target but NAB stopped pursuing the case. In another instance, NAB reached a settlement directly with a target valued at $ 25 million but refused to pay Broadsheet’s commission. For all its efforts over several years, Broadsheet says it was paid only one small fee in connection with a recovery from Admiral (retd) Mansour-ul-Haq (a former Chief of Naval Staff), and the amount paid was less than the terms of the agreement. Even a casual perusal of the list of luminaries amongst the 200 plus targets indicates that this was the crème de la crème of Pakistani society. With hindsight, it may be more properly described as our top Rogues Gallery. Although NAB argues that the information shared by Broadsheet was not actionable, the real reason appears to have been that General Musharraf had first and foremost targeted his political and other enemies and left out his political collaborators (indicating the partisan purposes of the endeavour) but soon succumbed to the political expediency of retaining his hold on power by ‘forgiving’ or allowing plea bargains by those who came over to his camp. Amongst those who benefited from this partisanship, top of the list are the Chaudhries of Gujrat who, having helped Musharraf get a political base of support by forming the King’s Party (PML-Q), were left off the list entirely. Those provided relief later included Rao Sikandar, Faisal Saleh Hayat and Aftab Sherpao (defectors from the PPP) and brothers Humayun and Haroon Akhtar (by joining the PML-Q). What is not clear from the reports is what transpired in the cases of former COAS General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg, Chiefs of Air Staff Anwar Shamim and Abbas Khattak, and apart from Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (retd) Mansoor-ul-Haq, another naval chief Saeed Muhammad Khan. Below them in rank but not insignificant were Lt-Generals (retd) Zahid Ali Akbar and Fazl-e-Haq. Amongst the politicians on the list, prominent amongst whom were the Sharifs, Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari, the issue of accountability still hovers on the horizon today. Musharraf’s turn from a so-called desire to improve financial integrity at the top of the heap to political expediency pure and simple doomed accountability almost at birth. The founding chairman NAB, Lt-General (retd) Syed Amjad and its first prosecutor general Farouk Adam Khan both resigned when NAB’s mission was shifted by Musharraf from recovery of assets to the rehabilitation of corrupt targets who then re-emerged as powerful figures in politics. Two conclusions can be drawn from this sorry saga. First, no accountability regime has a snowball’s chance in hell if political expediency trumps it. Two, the list of targets is a timely reminder of the scope and breadth of corruption at the top of our state institutions, political and business elite. Partial, partisan or politically motivated accountability therefore will never bring about the desired purge of state and society from this affliction.