The investigation into the murder of Imran Farooq and the money-laundering investigation into the MQM have both taken a long time. For five years the UK police have devoted huge resources to their enquiries. And an outstandingly thorough investigation has given the UK authorities very good knowledge of what happened to Imran Farooq, and why and how the MQM has financed itself in London over the years.
And yet while many people have been arrested and bailed, no one has been charged either with involvement in the murder or with money laundering. Those arrested could be forgiven for thinking that, at some point soon, a decision on their fate, one way or the other, has to be reached.
It all comes down to what evidence can be presented in court. If the evidence is both admissible and considered solid, charges will follow. If not the cases will go cold.
What does that mean for the murder case? The British recently interviewed three suspects in Islamabad. The first issue is: what did those suspects (definitely interviewed as suspects, not ‘witnesses’) say? Did they confess to anything? And if so, did they name the people who commissioned their alleged crimes? But there is a second issue: even if they did confess, would the Pakistan state agree to a British extradition request?
Pakistan might delay or deny extradition. Bear in mind that the Pakistan authorities have recently started advancing various legal procedures in relation to the three men. These manoeuvres will enable the Pakistan state to argue that it wants the Imran Farooq case heard in Pakistan rather than in the UK. The reason it might adopt this position is that its main objective does not really relate to the MQM but rather to India. Security officials in Pakistan want the British to hear the money-laundering case before the murder case in the hope that any possible evidence about Indian funding of the MQM would get into the public domain via a British courtroom.
To further confuse an already highly complicated situation, the British courts are now pressing the police to accelerate the pace of their work. A judge has granted one of those arrested in the money-laundering case – his name has not yet been disclosed – a judicial review. In response the police have submitted a significant amount of documentation the court to justify why their investigations have taken so long.
But how viable is the money-laundering case? It is difficult to believe, to take a hypothetical example, that any suspected jihadi found with large amounts of cash and a list of weapons in his or her house could escape being charged with something. But this case is different. In the case of a trial of a jihadi, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – which takes the decision on whether or not to press charges – would argue that in the current climate of jihadi attacks it has to give the police every chance to secure a conviction. If the case failed the CPS would argue that it had done the right thing. There would be no adverse press coverage for the CPS in such circumstances.
But in the event of an MQM trial failing there would be a risk that if the CPS would come under severe press criticism. The party would no doubt accuse the CPS of having participated in a political witch-hunt. Fearing such an outcome, the CPS (already on the defensive in relation to some other botched cases) is likely to be very cautious in reaching a decision on whether to charge in the money-laundering case.
There’s another thing. If there is evidence about money laundering it would exist not in London alone but also in Karachi. Finding such evidence in a form that would make it admissible in a UK court would require the cooperation of the Pakistan authorities. Sources in Pakistan suggest that, so far, that cooperation has not been forthcoming.
Pakistan’s somewhat baffling failure to cooperate lends weight to the view that different parts of the Pakistani state are working to different agendas. Some, it seems, don’t want to eliminate the MQM but merely to weaken it. The only alternative explanation is that the powers that be in Pakistan are so ignorant of the UK’s legal procedures that they don’t understand the need to cooperate in an open and transparent manner that will result in the handing over of evidence is such a way that it could be used in a UK court.
A CPS decision on the money-laundering case is likely in January. But even if a money-laundering trial does happen, there is the question of whether the evidence about Indian funding will be heard in open court. It is possible that, at the judicial review stage, that part of the evidence could be heard in secret. In the event of a full trial with a jury the situation would change and all the evidence would have to be heard in open. But even then there are uncertainties. If the CPS decides to press charges in relation to misuse of the havala system rather than the source of the funding, then the British authorities could still try to prevent the Indian material being heard in open court. Their efforts, though, might well fail.
It is possible both cases will go nowhere. Or that they will lead to the airing of scandalous material. And so it goes on. These are cases full of politics as well as law. A final resolution is getting closer but it is still unclear what form it will take.
The writer is a freelance British journalist, one of the hosts of BBC’s Newshour and the author of the new political thriller, Target Britain. Email: bennettjoneshotmail.com