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Opposition asks govt to provide parameters of FATF action plan

National

July 25, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Opposition in Parliament has made it clear to the government that it wouldn’t continue with 24-member special committee for legislation business constituted by the speaker if it doesn’t produce the parameters proposed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for eliminating economic terrorism and money laundering.

The opposition will not be party in any legislation that would give arbitrary powers to the administration for detaining anyone and no remedy would be made available to the person so arrested. The opposition sources told The News here Friday that the government is interested to develop understanding with the opposition at least about nine drafts of the legislation which are either pending in the Upper House of Parliament, have been lapsed or already approved by the cabinet for legislation. The most contentious legislation before the committee is about the detention for 90 days for economic terrorism which is renewable for further 90 days. The orders for arresting anyone could be made by the officers of Interior Ministry or by the officer who is vested authority by the government for the purpose.

The sources said that the opposition members of the committee made it clear to the government that the whole opposition would fight against any such legislation piece tooth and nail which could empower the administration to put any person behind the bars for a specific period of time without any evidence. Such law would be opposed not by the opposition in the Parliament, but legal fraternity and civil society would also fight against such effort.

Any draconian law of this kind would also be contested in the superior judiciary which is already offering critical observations about the NAB laws and its authority. Earlier, the federal government had decided to grant regulatory powers to a set of public and private bodies to effectively regulate high risk businesses and professions that were prone to money laundering and terror financing. The federal cabinet has already approved amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010 for the second time in four months.

It would now be placed before Parliament for adoption next week or immediately after Eid’s sitting of the House. The Parliament had also amended the anti-money laundering law four months ago, but it fell short of the FATF criteria. The decision has been taken ahead of a meeting of the FATF’s joint group to address the legal deficiencies pointed out by the global watchdog. A controversial change, which the Parliament had struck down four months ago, was to declare money laundering a cognisable offence.

However, it is again part of the proposed changes endorsed by the cabinet early this week. Money laundering is a non-cognisable offence currently, but the government has again proposed changes after which investigation officers would be empowered to arrest people without warrants and start an investigation without court permission. The joint group is expected to meet in September to review Pakistan’s case before it is placed in front of the FATF plenary, which is likely to take place in October. Pakistan won a three-month further extension to complete its 27-point action plan because of the coronavirus pandemic. The extended deadline was June this year but the FATF extended it due to the postponement of the FATF plenary.

A key change is the insertion of Section 6A in the 2010 Act that would empower the government to designate the government and private entities as anti-money laundering/counter financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulatory authorities. Pakistan is required by the FATF to implement an action plan to bring its financial system in compliance with the international FATF standards on AML/CFT. The government has proposed to omit the Section 16 that gives investigation officers powers to arrest after obtaining warrants from the court or the judicial magistrate. The section is proposed to be omitted on the condition that the money laundering will be declared as cognisable offense.

Through an amendment in section 20, the government has proposed that the accused may be tried in any court, which is competent to try the offense instead of restricting the trial to the court which is trying the predicate offices. The reason given for the change is that it might be difficult to ensure trial of money laundering in the same court.

The government has also proposed that on failure to file a suspicious transaction report, a complaint can be filed before the court against such entities. The sources said that the opposition members of the committee of the Parliament have taken up the question of reforming accountability system as top priority and doing away authority of the NAB for witch-hunting. The opposition has also expressed serious reservations about inclusion of non-elected member in the committee who don’t have representative character.

The opposition members of the committee headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in its inaugural sitting assured the government that opposition is prepared to cooperate in any legislation of national interest but it must be reasonably judicious and shouldn’t be used as tool of coercion by the government to haunt its opponents.