Friday September 17, 2021

Pakistan pays Rs4.59 billion to British firm for lost case

LONDON/ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan High Commission has made a payment of $28.706 million (Rs4.59 billion) on behalf of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to the assets recovery firm Broadsheet LLC after losing the long-running litigation at the London High Court – 21 years after hiring the firm to trace alleged foreign assets of dozens of Pakistanis and being unable to find any.

The London High Court’s Financial Division had issued on December 17 a Final Third Party Order for payment to the NAB’s former client Broadsheet by December 30 – drawing curtains on a case that has cost Pakistani taxpayers billions of rupees.

Ironically, Broadsheet was hired by the NAB during Pervez Musharraf’s government in 2003 to trace assets in the UK and USA of more than 200 Pakistanis (called ‘targets’ in the contract) including generals, politicians, businessmen—Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif as the chief targets. The firm did not recover a single asset of any target anywhere in the world but its litigation against the NAB started over the broken contract when the NAB ended its contract in violation of the terms and conditions.

A Pakistan High Commission source, on condition of anonymity, confirmed to The News that it had received the court order for the payment from the London High Court and had “no choice” but to comply with. At the earlier hearings, the court held the NAB responsible for contractual damages and breach of contract from the day it had signed the contract to trace assets of Pakistanis.

On a hearing on December 17, the London High Court ordered that $28.7 million should be debited by December 30.

The News has seen correspondence sent from the Pakistan High Commission London to the Pakistan government asking to “facilitate the payment of USD 28,706,533.34”. “In case of non receipt of written payment instructions by 30 December 2020, the bank will have no choice to proceed with unilateral debiting the accounts of Pakistan high commission to meet the payment amount as stipulated in the court order,” the bank wrote to the Pakistan High Commission after receiving the order, according to the note sent by the High Commission to Pakistan Foreign Office.

The News understands that the Pakistan High Commission sent a “Note Verbale” to the British government seeking diplomatic immunity and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) should “take up the matter with the relevant authorities” and that the accounts of Pakistan High Commission “cannot be debited/frozen under any circumstances” because these “enjoy diplomatic immunity under Vienna Convention.”

A source confirmed here that after receiving the London High Court order, the Pakistan High Commission was requested to provide written payment instructions with debit account details to facilitate the payment of $28,706,533.35 in line with the Final Third Party Order issued by court.

The government source said that the NAB had sent £26 million into the High Commission account at the end of June 2020 but this was not the full amount that should have been deposited in the bank account of PHC and there was a shortfall. The News has learnt that the NAB did not appeal the December 17 order of London High Court’s Financial Division.

Foreign Office officials in Pakistan have claimed that the High Commission account had not been deducted but the High Commission source in London said the payment to the Broadsheet is a legal matter and compliance is important or else face repercussions.

In August 2020, the Broadsheet had secured a freezing order in London on $26 million in Pakistani state funds reserved in various UK commercial bank accounts.