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The Senate Standing Committee on Interior on Friday passed the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matters) Bill, 2020 which will help get information about foreign assets and bank accounts of Pakistani citizens as well as pave way for Pakistan to phase out from grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The committee meets which was presided over by Senator Rehman Malik passed the bill which will allow the government to get information about foreign assets and bank accounts of Pakistani citizens as well as permit other countries to get information from Pakistan. The bill was passed after an undertaking by Senator Mohammad Azam Khan Swati, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, on behalf of the government that the new bill based on the proposed amendments by the members shall be brought in the House by the government within 60 days of the passage of the said bill.

During the previous meeting, PML-N Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) Senator Talha Mahmood proposed some amendments to the bill.

Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati while briefing the committee said that the bill is a requirement of FATF which is necessary to be fulfilled. "This sword is not only hanging over the government but it is over the entire state," he said, adding that the main reason to pass the bill in haste is the time constraint. He said the committee needs to pass the bill as the next meeting of FATF is scheduled be held on Jan 20.

He assured the committee that he will present the amendments proposed by the members in the shape of a bill in the National Assembly within 60 days.

Malik said the amendments proposed by the members are correct but due to time constraint it is necessary to pass the bill. "Failing to pass the bill is to negate national interest," he said, adding if the committee does not pass the bill, the people will hold them responsible if FATF places Pakistan on blacklist. He said the amendments proposed by the members will be brought before the Parliament in the shape of a bill within 60 days.

"To meet requirements of FATF and its time constraints of January 20, when Pakistan has to give compliance with the MLA to FATF, it is necessary to pass the Bill by today (Friday)," he said.

Senator Javed Abbasi said if a parliamentarian proposes "better" amendments to the bill then those should be taken positively. "A bill where there is no amendment, it could not be deemed to be a bill," he said, adding that if that is the case then there is no need of the Parliament.

He said that he will never support the words "Central Authority" in the bill, as they give a lot of powers to a single person. He said that the phrase "central authority" should be replaced with the "federal government." He said that Section 23 of the bill - "Indemnity - no suit prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the central authority or any other officer a person exercising any power or performing any functions under this act or rules made there under for anything done or intended to be done in good faith" - should be deleted.

Abbasi proposed that the law should only be applied on the people involved in criminal activities, terrorism and money laundering and it should not be applied in politically-motivated cases.

According to the bill, "central authority" means the secretary to the Ministry of Interior or such other officer not less than the rank of a joint secretary of the government, as the secretary to the Ministry of Interior may exercise power and perform functions of the central authority under the act.

It says that central authority will be authorized to make a request on behalf of Pakistan to the appropriate authority of a country for mutual legal assistance (MLA) in any investigation commenced or proceedings instituted in Pakistan relating to a criminal offence committee or suspected on reasonable grounds to have been committed within or outside Pakistan.

As per the bill, the authority would also receive and deal with requests received from the appropriate authority of a country for MLA in any investigation commenced or proceedings instituted that the country relating to an offence committed or suspected on reasonable grounds to have been committed within or outside that country.

The central authority may authorize temporary detention in Pakistan of a person in detention in a country who is transferred from that country to Pakistan pursuant to a request.

Senator Mehmood said that it will provide huge powers to a single person. "The bill was referred to the committee for further strengthening and improvement," he said. "Why is the government working in a hurry?" he questioned. He said that the government will never bring opposition's amendments to the Parliament.

Later, Mehmood requested the committee to hold an in-camera meeting for some time. Following a discussion over the bill in the in-camera meeting, the committee passed the bill with the condition that the government would present the amendments before the Parliament in the shape of a bill within 60 days.

Malik said that the committee considered all aspects of the bill including its misuse, particularly for political victimization.

According to statement of objects and reasons of the bill, international cooperation in criminal matters through mutual legal assistance is intended to bridge existing gaps in respective countries towards effective law enforcement. The requested state will provide legal support to the requesting state by executing necessary actions on its territory in criminal cases warranting shared assistance, it said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020