The federal cabinet on Thursday ordered to initiate “criminal investigations” against some prominent people on the recommendations of the one-man inquiry commission constituted to investigate the Broadsheet scandal.
The cabinet allowed criminal proceedings against former law minister Ahmer Bilal Soofi, the then legal consultant NAB; Hassan Saqib Sheikh, the then deputy director and desk officer of Broadsheet LLC for NAB; Ghulam Rasool, the then joint secretary of law ministry; Abdul Basit, the then deputy high commissioner at the Pakistan High Commission, UK; Shahid Ali Baig, the then director audit and accounts at the Pakistan High Commission, UK; and, Tariq Fawad Malik, the person who had introduced Broadsheet to NAB/Eehtasab Bureau.
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry shared the details of the decisions taken during the cabinet meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan via video link, in his post-cabinet meeting press briefing here.
Headed by Justice (retd) Sheikh Azmat Saeed, the Broadsheet Commission was constituted to investigate corruption and examine contracts signed by NAB with the Broadsheet and other international asset recovery firms to unearth foreign assets made by Pakistanis through the ill-gotten money.
“Broadsheet Commission has declared these five men as main accused in its report,” Chaudhry said. The commission held that “the darkest era of NAB was between 2011 and 2017” and due to the “criminal negligence” of the former NAB chairman Chaudhry Qamar Zaman and the staff in that period, the documents pertaining to Swiss accounts went missing and people did not even come to know about it.
As per the commission’s recommendation, Chaudhry said, “criminal liability” of Qamar Zaman and other high-ups of NAB during that period will be determined. The minister added that former president Asif Zardari and other leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were acquitted on grounds that NAB didn’t have the “original record” of the Swiss accounts.
“This was a complete lie,” Chaudhry said, adding that the government was thankful to the commission that it “discovered” the original record and “now the original record of the Swiss accounts is available with the government and on the basis of that, Swiss account cases can be reopened” against Zardari, adding: “Our legal team is examining the material.”
Chaudhry further said that “criminal investigations” are also being initiated against the NAB’s then director general, prosecutor general and others on account of deliberately destroying and concealing evidence.
A presentation obtained from a key government minister revealed that Soofi, the then NAB consultant, had been accused of recommending settlement with both the IAR and the Broadsheet despite the knowledge that Broadsheet LLC was wound up in 2005. It was stated that the then prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, gave approval for full and final settlement to the IAR and the Broadsheet LLC on May 10, 2007.
Referring to the commission’s report, the minister said, “Soofi’s criminally negligent role in drafting a settlement agreement for another company, Broadsheet LLC, Colorado, led to the payment of $1.5 million to wrong hands of Jerry James.”
In the report, the head of the commission stated that the Broadsheet owner Kaveh Moussavi was a convicted felon and sentenced to a term in a prison, adding that he had made certain statements in the media about several people which might or might not hold water.
Under the terms of reference (TORs) of the commission, the retired judge stated in the report stated, it cannot inquire into those but the government can investigate such allegations if it finds it expedient.
The asset recovery firms’ claims against Pakistan were held valid by an arbitration court and later by a United Kingdom high court that gave an award of over $28 million against Pakistan. The federal cabinet had approved payment of $28.7 million in damages to the asset recovery firm.
The commission, while looking into how the award of $22 million accumulated into $28.7 million due to non-payment of interest noted that the “Ministry of Finance that controls the purse strings of the national exchequer needs to explain the aforementioned delays that caused further loss to the exchequer”.
Declaring that the present government has made the payments to Broadsheet, rightfully, the commission said that the delay in payments was a further loss due to applicable interest and it was a responsibility on the finance ministry.
The commission has noted that at a certain period of time in NAB’s history when all high profile cases, especially those involving illicit foreign assets, prosecutions were conducted half-heartedly but more importantly appeals against acquittals were either not filed or deliberately allowed to become time barred.
“NAB’s darkest hour in this regard was from mid-2011 to the end of 2017,” the report read. “A plaint, passive and subservient NAB chairman, beholden to the political parties in power is a guarantee for failure of accountability,” he stated.
The commission has held that the proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration and subsequently before High Court of Justice, London, were not conducted diligently and efficiently because the place of arbitration was in Dublin and transferred to London with the consent of NAB, Pakistani counsel, Allen and Overy, did not pursue the matter diligently, and due to the lack of capacity of AG office’s International Dispute Unit.
The commission observed the failure of NAB and the previous PPP government in retrieving the money from Switzerland. It also observed the transfer of looted money from Pakistan to Middle East and then to European countries.
The commission observed that the target-listed corrupt people come into the power corridor and their investigation/cases start to evaporate, witnesses retract and they are ultimately acquitted.
During its investigation, the commission had summoned 26 witnesses, recorded statements and exhibited attested copies of record.
It observed that drafting of agreement between NAB and Broadsheet was “hijacked” by the then PGA Farooq Adam Khan, who “misled” the then NAB chairman, Lt Gen Syed Muhammad Amjad, saying that the approval of the draft had been taken from relevant ministries.
The commission found that the interpretation of agreement by the law ministry in September 2001 termed it detrimental and at financial disadvantage to NAB and the government of Pakistan. It concluded from the evidence that Farooq Adam Khan, the then PGA, was probably on payroll of Broadsheet LLC.
Moreover, it emerged that his appointment as PGA was not on the basis of legal experience but as a matter of convenience for the then chairman. Astonishingly, it said, after one month of removal from NAB he was employed by Broadsheet.
The commission was constituted on January 29, 2021, by the federal cabinet. The one-man commission, consisting of Justice (retd) Sheikh Azmat Saeed, was assisted by representatives from AG office, law ministry, NAB and law experts.
In its recommendations, the commission has called for adherence to Rules of Business, 1973, ensuring safe custody of government record, capacity building of government bodies, especially the law and justice ministry, due diligence in hiring international consultancy services and placing restrictions on the role of private consultancy firms and ensuring that there is no conflict of interest of the public office holders to prevent loss to public exchequer.
Following the recommendations, Justice (retd) Saeed, while referring to a French economic journalist Frederic Bastiat, who is best known for his work “The Law” and the “Parable of the broken windowpane” in the mid-1800s, wrote: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it”.
The former Supreme Court judge stated that the “quotation is uncanny in its applicability in present day Pakistan”. It said corruption has infected every institution in the country.
As a nation, Justice (retd) Saeed maintained, “we must dismantle the structure that gives rise and protection’ to corruption. “Corruption gnaws away at the scaffolds that support state structure and polity: the state must not tear the scaffolds that support its existence.”
Lastly, he wrote, “The apologists of corruption, are dime a dozen.” He continued by saying, “I wonder whether this phenomenon reflects some perverted form of ancient tribalism, moral bankruptcy, or such persons are simply standing there with their mouths open, tails wagging hoping for some crumbs from the table.”
Whatever that may be, he concluded the commission’s report with a quote of “somebody”: “When I saw corruption, I was forced to find truth on my own. I couldn’t swallow the hypocrisy.”