White collar crime investigations need special expertise to deal with different nature of financial crimes. However, our top institutions, such as National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that takes pride being autonomous, constitutionally established, to work against corruption and act as critical national agency to counter economic terrorism, has unfortunately compromised its credibility.
NAB's Chairman is a highly controversial person. Apart from NAB, other LEAs' personnel are not competent enough to understand the nature of illicit flow of funds. The Mutual Evaluation Report 2019 (MER 2019) observed that Pakistan convicted only one person since the introduction of ML laws that are not consistent with its risk profile. The MER 2019 notes lack of internal directives, guidance on ML investigation, lack of skilled resources, capacity to investigate ML, lack of understanding of ML offences and low level of awareness by the provincial police as well as lack of awareness as to the elements of ML offences by the judiciary.
Another factor that is shaking our credibility and being justified by our superior courts is the encouragement of financial crimes related cases filed to achieve political motives by those who have a questionable background.
The Broadsheet and decision against Suleman Shahbaz and Shahbaz Sharif are classic examples of incompetence of our LEAs. Therefore in Pakistan, accountability has been a popular slogan, political parties and others have been repeatedly taking controversial and vindictive measures on the pretext of so-called accountability.
Through this politically-motivated initiative, they achieve their short-term goals, however, these controversial initiatives break the controls in place to save the country from reputational risks, which is the main element of risk assessment. Our selective drive to counter financial crimes is not helping us. The dichotomy and irony are that in recent past when Panama Papers were leaked and it established links with the family of former Premier Nawaz Sharif, almost all political forces, military establishment and judiciary took a keen interest in the matter and made coordinated and even "collusive" efforts to conclude this matter to their satisfaction.
In this process, they defined new legal standards, which had no precedent or legal basis, but still, law and process were twisted and redefined to ensure that ex-premier and his family are shackled and chained in this circuit of accountability.
The abuse of process by the mighty especially the untouchables is not a hidden fact in Pakistan. The hybrid regimes whether current or in the past seem to enjoy immunity from any kind of accountability and all-powerful individuals in corridors of power seem to be hand in glove with each other. There is no or little hope that those names in this leak will be held accountable or even will be asked to clarify their positions.
This presumption is based on the fate of the Panama Papers saga where more than 400 Pakistanis were named but except for Nawaz Sharif no one was even called by any court or investigating body and all the activity was nothing but an opportunity to settle personal political scores.
It is very disheartening for a common Pakistani to see his sweat and blood earnings end up landing in offshore havens especially by those who are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of running the state or by those who are responsible for protecting the homeland. These frequent disclosures coming from external sources are a matter of great embarrassment for our local institutions. It is a testimony of the fact that our investigative and financial institutions have repeatedly failed to identify and curtail the flight of capital. We need a strong commitment, transparent mechanism to address these challenges otherwise our economy will keep on suffering and the gulf between the ruling elite and common man will keep on widening.-concluded
(Huzaima Bukhari & Dr Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in 'White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance'. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021