The turn of the screw

Published: August 3, 2018

The ongoing churn in the political landscape which historians may track back to the Panama Papers affair has turned up another unsavoury money-trail, this time leading to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and its chief, Altaf Hussain, who is based in London. Sixty-nine foreign bank accounts have been detected linked to the Khidmat-e-Khalq charitable foundation that is part of the MQM. The information was shared with an anti-terrorism court on Wednesday by the FIA which is conducting an inquiry into terrorism financing and money laundering by the MQM. The sums of money involved are staggeringly huge — Rs1,321,509,608 — which was collected according to the KKF-owned books between 2013 and 2015. These sums — it is alleged — were obtained by extortion and ransom, and then deposited into personal accounts belonging to trustees of the KKF in the UK.

Times change, and with the leader of one of the largest and most powerful political parties in the country currently in jail, those that were previously insulated from the law are no longer so, and Altaf Hussain is no longer insulated either. If he is found guilty, even in absentia, of any offence that attracts a prison sentence in Pakistan then he must be returned to serve it. Equally to be returned to the exchequer is the money now in foreign accounts. Anybody found to be an accomplice of Altaf Hussain and engaged in illegal activity must be similarly prosecuted. A warrant for the arrest of Altaf Hussain has been issued and he has been summoned to court on September 1, 2018.

The Age of Impunity is fading in Pakistan and there are the glimmerings of an Age of Accountability. This country has a long and dishonourable history of being robbed by those who govern it. The robbery is at every level federal and provincial, and the sums involved both great and small. This most recent disclosure laid at the door of the MQM and its leader and huge as it is, is probably the tip of a very large iceberg. It is now for the new government to make good on its promises and put criminals in the dock.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2018.

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