ISLAMABAD: In a financially extravagant but futile exercise, the government has spent a sum of Rs318 million on legal battles since 2003 to recover looted money stashed away in Switzerland’s banks – and much to the nation’s chagrin not a penny of the plundered wealth has been recovered to date.
All that has been achieved over a six-year period is the “freezing” of $60 million.
The most confidential report of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, should be enough to baffle many: the NAB hired national and international law firms involving the expenditure of Rs291.4 million to recover the public money from 2003-09.
The investigation conducted on the request of the Ministry of Finance under Article 169 of the Constitution further revealed that an amount of Rs24 million was spent engaging Pakistani law firms to pursue the case in Swiss courts.
The Supreme Court also sought NAB’s performance report on the issue, directing that the public money frozen in different banks across the world must be traced. The court also inquired about the money frozen in Switzerland.
The payments to foreign ‘law firms’ engaged by the NAB were made through Ehtesab Cell’s account number 235.412500.61 K UBS, 3000 Berne, 94 Switzerland, Union Bank of Switzerland and 0001-021441-001 Brook Street, London, (Pound Sterling) United National Bank London.
The foreign law firms include Kendall Freeman; UK Pakistan versus Benazir Bhutto, Baker Associates, UK Intelligence held in the Channel Island, Asset Sharing Agreement, Designated Territories and Minwalla, Python and Peter, Swiss (record not provided) 12 4, M/s J Olleros, Spanish (record not provided), M/s LALIVE (record not provided).
The M/s Python and Peter Sheferly engaged on fee of US$ 1,908,982, M/s Kendall Freeman, £1,266,066.13, M/s Baker Associates, £201,919.08 22,704,509.64, M/s J Olleros, Spanish €53,001.50 4,122,353.74 and M/s LALIVE was engaged with an amount of $42,291.
The guidelines for the appointment of consultants were issued by the Establishment Division, MS Wing under letter number UO No.11-3/2001-MSW-III on Jan 25, 2002. The Division finally approved the hiring of these consultants.
The report states that the rates charged per hour by these law firms were not approved by the Finance Division and payments were made on the claims of firms. The copies of contracts were also not given to the special investigation team consisting officials of the NAB as well as the officials of the Auditor General Pakistan.
The then director general operation overseas, Hassan Waseem Afzal, headed the team engaged to deal with the Swiss cases against (President) Asif Ali Zardari. General (retd) Muneer Hafeez was the chairman of NAB, who was dealing with such cases outside the country.
All these law firms were performing their duties in the foreign courts on behalf of the NAB. The Letter No 38 / 2003 by Law Division revealed that the then NAB chairman engaged consultants/advisers/experts and fixed their compensation under Section 28 (f) and was not bound by instructions of the Establishment Division regarding employment of consultants. However, all these cases were terminated after introduction of the NRO on October 5, 2007.
Besides, the letter of Finance Division UO No 322-DFA (Cab)/AO/2000 dated 10-7-2000 stated the then chairman NAB was delegated power to make payments on account of law charges.
Surprisingly, the NAB did not give any details regarding Pakistani law firms/lawyers who were hired and earned more than Rs24 million since 2003. The NAB office did not give any details regarding Pakistani law firms who dealt with the Swiss cases. When The Express Tribune asked NAB officials to provide details they said, “Sorry we have been directed not to talk to the media.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2010.