Govt scrambles to protect precious foreign assets

FO advises state entities to keep foreign holdings to a minimum

Hasnaat Malik January 16, 2021
A view of Foreign Office building in Islamabad. PHOTO: FILE


In view of the adverse international court orders in the Reko Diq and Broadsheet cases recently, the Foreign Office has advised the government entities to keep their foreign accounts and holdings to a minimum, sources told The Express Tribune.

The advice comes on the recommendation of the Pakistan High Commission in London for the state-owned entities such as the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC), the Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), the Oil & Gas Development Company (OGDCL) and others.

The sources also said that different stakeholders like the law ministry and the Attorney General for Pakistan’s (AGP) office have been requested to give their views on this recommendation.

It is learnt that efforts are afoot to protect the country’s foreign assets after attachment of two PIA hotels in Reko Diq case, as well as debiting of billions of rupees from the accounts of the Pakistan High Commission in London in Broadsheet case.

The High Court of Justice in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), while passing the order on December 10, 2020, had attached the Pakistan International Airlines Investment Limited’s (PIAIL) two hotels in New York and Paris. In view of the injunction, the PIA cannot sell any of these hotels.

Similarly, a high court in the United Kingdom issued an order for transfer of $28.7 million (Rs4.5 billion) from the accounts of the high commission to the foreign asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC. The Foreign Office has expressed regrets over UK government’s inaction over the debiting of the amounts.

An inter-ministerial meeting at the Foreign Office on January 6 was informed that despite several communications from the Pakistan government, the UK government did not inform the bank about the diplomatic immunity of the Pakistan High Commission accounts.

An official told the meeting that it was a massive breach of diplomatic immunity and the international law. Interestingly, the British side had conveyed informally that it was for the government of Pakistan to assert the immunity in the court during the proceedings.

Earlier on January 5, the acting British high commissioner was called to the Foreign Office to convey Pakistan government’s concerns over the violation of diplomatic immunity. A ‘Note Verbal’ was also delivered to the acting high commissioner.

FO demands $0.235m from NAB

The debiting of billions of rupees from the high commission accounts has also caused a friction between the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Foreign Office, as the later demands of the former to remit its amount ($0.235 million) to the high commission at the earliest.

During the inter-ministerial meeting, a senior Foreign Office official stated that the NAB should take responsibility for the matter and must reply to this embarrassment.

During the meeting, according to sources, the Foreign Office official posed three questions to the NAB director general: Firstly, when would the amount be transferred to the Pakistan High Commission in London. Secondly, why authorisation was issued to the Pakistan High Commission to pay the amount. Thirdly, why should NAB not pay the bill for the new legal proceedings on the issue.

However, the NAB official sought time to consult his seniors in this regard.

Meanwhile, it is learnt, the Foreign Office has decided to send a legal notice to the bank for breach of trust, unauthorised debit of accounts, and becoming third party without informing the Pakistan High Commission in London.

It has also been decided that accounts of the Pakistan High Commission in London would be shifted to another bank. Likewise, the ministry of finance has been approached to accept this proposal expeditiously.

Also, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs has convened a meeting on January 18 to discuss the Broadsheet case.


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