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June 5, 2020

British Pakistani lawyer Zia-Ul-Mustafa Nasim at the centre of Justice Qazi Faez case


Fri, Jun 05, 2020
Barrister Zia Nasim. — Photo by author

LONDON: A British Pakistani lawyer who moved from London to Pakistan to work as a legal expert with the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) is at the centre of the on-going Justice Qazi Faez Isa case being heard by a 10-member larger bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The SC bench is headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprises of Justice Maqbool Baqar, Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Justice Faisal Arab, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi, and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed.

The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) initiated the proceedings against Justice Isa on allegations that he purchased three properties in London in the name of his wife and children between 2011 and 2015 — but did not allegedly disclose them in wealth returns declared in Pakistan.

The apex court judges have heard that property details of Justice Isa’s family members were obtained by Barrister Zia-ul-Mustafa Nasim.

Barrister Nasim's name appears on papers submitted before the bench as the person responsible for sourcing the reports on Justice Isa’s children through a UK-based tracing firm.

The court has heard that the British-born lawyer was appointed as an expert in international law to help the ARU, a specialised body tasked with identifying and retrieving the ill-gotten money of Pakistani nationals stashed abroad.

Nasim’s name appears as respondent number nine in the list while other respondents include the President, Prime Minister, Attorney General, Law Minister, and Mirza Shahzad Akbar, head of the ARU.

Documents produced in the SC this week show that the selection board had recommended Nasim, while Prime Minister Imran Khan approved his appointment as Justice Isa has challenged his role in the reference against him.

On his Twitter account, Barrister Nasim describes himself as currently “working at the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU), Prime Minister Office Islamabad, specialist in Extradition Law, Civil, Criminal & Sovereign Asset Recovery”.

Who is Zia Nasim?

Zia Nasim is the son of Hafiz Muhammad Nasim who was Imam at Cricklewood and Acton Mosque in North West London. Hafiz Nasim is a well-known British Muslim community figure and his family runs a real estate business in the local area.

Nasim did his graduation from the University of London and the UK Bar Council website shows he did his bar in 2001 from Lincoln’s Inn. He had also worked as a ‘Legal Consultant’ with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for a few years during the PPP and PML-N tenures but later returned to the UK where he practiced with senior barrister Alun Jones QC.

He remained involved in Swiss cases against Asif Ali Zardari for some time as well and advised Pakistani authorities. He assumed charge with ARU in January 2019 after PTI government came into power.

A few months ago, Geo News had reported that Barrister Nasim accompanied Shahzad Akbar during his visits to the UK to discuss ongoing cases with British authorities. He has attended meetings with Shahzad Akbar at the Home Office, National Crime Agency (NCA), and Pakistan High Commission (London).

Nasim has also been involved in bringing back the frozen funds of a leading Pakistani businessman and the extradition case of Ishaq Dar, the former finance minister of Pakistan.

Documents in the court confirm that Barrister Nasim instructed the tracing agency in the UK to locate details of people living at the properties of Justice Isa’s family members.

Hiring tracing agencies in the UK is legal and services of such firms are acquired routinely and these firms operate within legal means. Most of these firms are run by retired police officers, former detectives, and lawyers.

These firms use publicly available data and deep search methods to find details of what they call 'targets'. In the past, the same firms have been accused of hacking private information of the subjects. The hacking scandal that led to the closure of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World originated from the excesses done by the private detective agencies.

There’s no suggestion that any illicit means were used to obtain details of Justice Isa's children.

A source at Pakistan High Commission said that the ARU didn’t use services of the high commission for hiring the detective firm and no communication was made as such. It’s believed that Zia Nasim used his own means to hire the firm.

London properties

According to a report submitted in the court by the ARU, Justice Isa’s wife Zarina Montserrat Carrera, who moved to Pakistan after getting married to him, owns one property under her name. Carrera bought a two-bedroom flat on Kendal Street on 10 October, 2011 against the estimated price of £300,000. The flat is on the sixth floor of the apartment block.

Carrera and her son Arsalan Isa Khosa bought a house jointly in March of 2013 for the price of £245,000 in Walthamstow, East London. The title deed shows that the transaction went through on 27 March, 2013. 40 Oakdale Road, E11, is free of mortgage.

Justice Khosa’s daughter Sehr Isa Khoso and Zarina Montserrat Carerra bought an East London house for the price of £270,000 on 28 June, 2013. 50 Coniston Court on Kendal Street is a leasehold property.

According to an investigation by this reporter, Justice Isa’s wife Carrera is half Spanish and has always had a Spanish passport. His son Arsalan holds a doctorate from Birkbeck University and daughter Sehr is a trained Barrister — she is a British national and married to a British national professional.

Both Arsalan and Sehr have lived and worked in the UK for decades.

In a separate report, Barrister Zia Nasim has told the court that he was “instructed to provide details of current and former residents living at the three properties”.

The report to the SC says that a tracing agency agent from ‘Find UK People’ was instructed to undertake a search and provide a detailed report on the resident at the three subject properties from official sources.

It added that the firm was able to provide these details after acquiring data from various sources including electoral roll and information from Credit Reference Agency.

The UK Land Registry record shows that searches on all three properties were made on 23rd April 2019.