Monday October 18, 2021

Five men named in Broadsheet probe to face criminal proceedings

April 02, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Criminal proceedings would be carried out against five individuals, including Ahmer Bilal Soofi, named in the Broadsheet inquiry commission report, Fawad Chaudhry, the Minister for Science and Technology, told the media on Thursday, as he said action would also be taken against Tariq Fawad Malik who had “facilitated the whole contract with Broadsheet”.

During a post-cabinet meeting media briefing here, Chaudhry said Justice (retd) Azmat Saeed Shaikh-led Broadsheet inquiry commission had unearthed “original data” of the Swiss accounts case, and therefore, he indicated Swiss accounts case against former president Asif Ali Zardari could be reopened.

The commission had sent its report to Prime Minister Imran Khan, which had been made public on Thursday after the federal cabinet’s decision. According to the report, all institutions except for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) were found to have resisted cooperating with the investigation, Geo News reported.

The commission also stated in its report Broadsheet’s records were missing from “nearly everywhere”, including the Pakistan mission in London. Additionally, the report states the chairman of the commission (Justice Saeed) did not think it necessary to record Tariq Fawad Malik and Broadsheet CEO Kaveh Moussavi’s statements. According to the report, the asset recovery deal made with Broadsheet makes evident the government institutions’ failure to comprehend international laws.

It said the bureaucracy made every attempt to “hide records or make them disappear”, in moves that were in many instances “transcontinental”. The report states Moussavi levelled allegations against certain individuals but probing this matter did not fall under the terms of reference defined for the commission. It added the government may probe the Broadsheet CEO’s allegations if it wishes to.

According to the report, a settlement deal was made with Broadsheet to pay it $2.2 million. What the government officials involved in making the settlement deal were unaware of at the time, was that there are two firms—based in Gibraltar and Colorado—that have no link with the real Broadsheet, based in the Isle of Man, UK, and with whom settlement deals were inked.

International law expert and former federal law minister Ahmer Bilal Soofi had contacted Jerry James, who was erroneously believed to be the Broadsheet chairman, when in fact he was associated with the Colorado firm.

It notes that $1.8 million in two instalments were paid in May 2008 to James in the presence of Abdul Basit who was Pakistan’s envoy in London at the time. Shahid Baig, an officer of the Pakistan High Commission had signed both cheques for payment. Baig in his statement to the commission stated that no approval from the Pakistan government was sought for payment made to Broadsheet (Colorado).

Meanwhile, secretary law Raja Naeem told the commission that all settlement records had been stolen from the ministry. Then NAB chairman Naveed Ahsan was also involved in making the settlement deal. Ahsan, in his statement to the commission, said Soofi had not disclosed any information regarding the deal made with James. Furthermore, then NAB officer Hassan Saqib Sheikh was also involved in the deal.

The first settlement deal was made with Broadsheet (Gibraltar) whereas Pakistan had never approached such a company, the report states. The commission also raised several questions regarding the role of judge Kaleem Khan who was attached to the ministry of law at the time.

The report notes the prime minister at the time, Shaukat Aziz, had given approval for this settlement with Broadsheet. A cabinet summary with the approval dated May 10, 2007 has been reference by the report.

No officer, whether from the law ministry, the Pakistan High Commission in London or the Foreign Office, the Ministry for Finance or NAB even had the remotest idea that Pakistan is being cheated.

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said the federal cabinet has decided to pursue criminal proceedings against five individuals named in the report based on the recommendations by the Broadsheet probe commission.

These include Ahmer Bilal Soofi; Hassan Saqib Shaikh, who is currently working with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR); Ghulam Rasool, who was the joint secretary of the ministry of law; Abdul Basit, who was the deputy high commissioner to the UK; Shahid Ali Baig, who was the director audit and accounts for the High Commission in London; and Tariq Fawad Malik, the person “who facilitated the whole contract with Broadsheet”. Chaudhry said the commission has declared these five individuals the “main accused”.

The minister said if one recalls, Asif Ali Zardari and other PPP members were acquitted in several cases in that period, because it was said NAB does not have the original records for the Swiss accounts, “which was all a pack of lies”.

“We are thankful to Justice Azmat Saeed who discovered the original record of the Swiss accounts [...] now on this basis, we will pursue action in the matter against Zardari. Our legal team is reviewing the matter.”

“Destroying or hiding records is a criminal offence so legal action will be taken against the director general NAB, prosecutor general and others involved,” Chaudhry added.