Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is keeping assets abroad criminal?

This April a bill was submitted in the National Assembly which is yet another attempt to make the citizens of Pakistan "loyal" to it. The bill seeks to amend the Article 63 of the Constitution – an article that sets the criteria for the members of parliament and provincial assemblies. The bill requires that any person who holds dual nationality and owns bank accounts and assets in countries other than Pakistan will not be able to be a member of the parliament and provincial assemblies as well as public service, both civil and military. It ensued from the womb of Muslim League (Q). Leaving aside the doubts whether it is part of a political ploy or a trick of political blackmailing, the bill needs to be examined on its merits.

This article does not aim to dwell on the issue of dual nationality. The same restriction already existed in the Constitution, though the bill means to extend it to the public office holders also. As far as politicians' (and public officials') ownership of and keeping their wealth in foreign countries is concerned, the media and patriot lobby has since long been there manufacturing the public opinion against it. In fact, such matters came to fore mostly during the military dictatorships when politicians were especially made a target of political victimization. The argument put forward said the loyalty of the leaders to their country who own assets in foreign lands is precarious. Nonetheless, this class of doubtful loyalty with Pakistan has lately come to include generals, judges, and other high-profile officials. The bill does not make a target only of the politicians which had been the common practice in cases of such legislation in the past. 

It is as simple as that – if an ordinary citizen, or a public office holder, or an elected representative owns assets in any other country where he abides by the laws of that country and pays taxes duly, and back home also, then keeping accounts and assets there is his legal and constitutional right. In that case, he cannot be barred from being a member of any elected body and joining public office. Innumerable Pakistanis are already present in foreign countries' elected bodies and public institutions and own assets in both countries of their nationality. For that matter, in Pakistan probably very few citizens of other countries would be found in our elected bodies and public institutions! Doesn't this bill invite other countries to go for a legislation of the same ilk? 

Furthermore, if an elected representative or a public office holder uses his wealth in this or that country in an unbecoming manner and for illegal purposes, such laws already exist which deal with this wrong-doing. As the bill assumes that after its enactment politicians will be discouraged from indulging in corruption, or will not be able to escape political vengeance or legal action rightly or wrongly initiated against them, the same is just a figment. The fact is that many countries have bilateral or multilateral agreements on the extradition of alleged criminals. Also, in addition to the governments of other countries and their powerful elite classes, the relatives, friends and acquaintances of 'victimized' politicians and public office holders will be more than welcoming to them in having them as their 'pricey' guests. The reason for this investment is obvious: the prospects of going up of the value of such "assets," both in political and financial terms, will be hundredfold! 

In its essence, the bill questions the loyalty of elected representatives and public office holders to their country, and as proof of that loyalty instead of demanding from them, it by imposing legal constitutional restriction on them tries to force them from having and keeping their accounts and assets in foreign countries. Is holding accounts, owning property, doing business, and keeping assets abroad a crime? There is no such bar in the Constitution of the country. Then, why should there be such a bar on the elected representatives and public office holders? Does that specific status of theirs deprive them of their natural and fundamental constitutional rights? Will, by putting such a bar on them, they be more loyal to the country? Will, by putting this restriction, their patriotism be increased manifold? 

The factors which strengthen love and loyalty to one's country have nothing to do with such legal and constitutional restrictions. Instead of focusing on those factors, the bill diverts attention from them. In sum, in a time of extreme insecurity, forgoing the need of securing the protection of life, and security of rights and rightly earned wealth and property of its citizens, wherever in this world they own it, the bill seeks to put a narrow-minded and altogether unintelligible restriction on the citizens of Pakistan – the present and would-be elected representatives and public office holders. 

Without any fear of exaggeration, it may be surmised that the bill seems to be ringing the bells of/for another Martial Law! 

Note: This article was completed in August 2011.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wikileaking clandestine governments

While the Pakistani NGOs seek the Right to Information Law, the likes of "Wikileaks" are wikileaking clandestine governments!

The latest ‘leaks’ of Wikileaks provide a historical opportunity to re-consider many a taken for granted truths!

This writing too intends to discuss afresh some such propositions which relates to the affairs of the governments. For instance, whether governments are justified in keeping various types of information secret. In Pakistan and maybe in other such countries also, this is an accepted truth. People outside governments than those inside seem more convinced in this regard. That is to be more loyalist than the king. As is the case, in contrast to the ordinary people, the elitist both inside and outside governments are to be blamed for this myth. They present government as a transcendental entity, and attribute it with similar characteristics. Without going into a lengthy debate, the simple truth is that rulers and government officials, be they elected, or nominated or appointed, all of them are from the same society of human beings, and the same countries where they come to be rulers or officials. They are not endowed with these powers to rule others from any other-world. These powers are given to them by the citizens as a trust. 

Obviously, these powers are not absolute. They are determined and limited. Means that that’s no monarchy, rather a constitutional government which runs under certain rules and laws. It is for this reason that while someone is invested with powers, at the same time he is made responsible and accountable. To determine the scope of these powers, and their limits also, is the intent of laws and constitutions. For oversight, various institutions are created. That is what makes the existence of executive, legislature, and judiciary indispensable. Judiciary keeps a check on executive whether it is acting in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and laws of the land, and on legislature also whether the new laws enacted contradict or contravene with the dictates of the constitution. In Pakistan, its citizens have recently achieved a judiciary, which is not lame-duck, but alive and vigorous.  

Thus, as viewed above, if the powers acquired by the rulers and officials are like a trust, then there is no justification to keep information about the affairs of the government secret. Why a government’s own matters or a government’s matters with another government should be secret is without any grounds! No argument validates this claim. However, it has been so, and remains so.  

More to this, considering every government runs (and swells) at the expense of its citizens’ wealth, i.e. by levying taxes, it is quite natural for it to account for each single penny. Same is the purpose of audit and social audit. This means that all the affairs should proceed in complete transparency. There is no excuse for any secret or discretionary funds. All the incomes and expenditures of governments, including defense, should be transparent and open. This has become damn easier today. All the accounts should be put on internet for the perusal of the citizens. To this, only one exception can be considered. That’s the security and defense of a country, especially during war. To this end, certain information can be kept confidential. However, in this area extreme caution is needed. The type of information which today’s governments intend to conceal from their ‘enemies’ the very enemies somehow gain access to that, of course, due to the advancement of technology. Also, Wikileaks prove no information can be made and kept secret.  

Hence, if all the affairs of governments are open and transparent, most of the possibility of this or that type of armed revolts, and war will be reduced to the minimum. This proposition would never be welcomed by rulers and governments, and also by those who despite their being outside government are stuffed with a thinking of ruling other people. They are ‘rulers’ from inside, or by instinct. They can never concede to or tolerate that the matters of governments be brought in open before the ‘ordinary’ citizens.  

It is thanks to such elitist people that governments have enacted laws and rules like official secret acts, or classified information, and turned themselves into some transcendental entities. More than that, they step ahead of this when they not only conceal their affairs from their citizens but make leaking them a crime which invites various types of punishments. So, on the one hand in addition to concealing their affairs from their citizens, governments lie as well as mislead their citizens, and on the other, they contrive incomplete, incorrect and false information which they mean for “public consumption.” Interestingly, this has engaged civil society in securing citizens’ right to information. This makes for a mission for many an NGO. 

In view of above, it may be concluded that the information which Wikileaks has leaked is in fact the property not only of the US citizens but world citizens. Wikileaks has only returned that information to its rightful owners. We should be thankful to Wikeleaks, and wish there spring hundreds of such initiatives which will bring official secrets and classified information back to where it rightfully belong to. And by doing this, they will make the citizens powerful instead of their governments. In leaking and revealing the secrets of governments lies the secret of citizens’ freedom and prosperity!

Note: This article was completed in December 2010.

Friday, December 30, 2016

So, is London the last refuge for the Kleptocrats-Criminals?

The country that taught us lesson regarding Rule of Law, Rule of Politics is winning there!

On September 16, 2016, Dawn published the following Situationer, which explains how law may not win over politics in UK:

Politics, not law, likely to decide murder probe
By Owen Bennett-Jones

Here is the text of the piece:

LONDON: Shortly before 17:30 on Sept 16, 2010, Dr Imran Farooq was on his way home from work when he was murdered outside his home in Green Lane, Edgware, in north London. As the police subsequently reported, a post-mortem gave his cause of death as multiple stab wounds and blunt trauma to the head.

For Dr Farooq it was a violent, brutal end. For the MQM, it was the start of a process that six years later would leave the party divided, weakened and under assault from the Pakistani state. We can never know what would have happened had Imran Farooq not been murdered but MQM insiders admit that it was an incident that changed everything.

The British police investigation has been remarkably thorough. Detectives from the Counter Terrorism Command have spoken to 4,555 people, reviewed 7,697 documents, followed up 2,423 lines of inquiry and seized 4,325 exhibits.

At each stage the police faced obstacles. Early on, for example, details of visa applications had to be prised out of a reluctant British consulate in Karachi. Despite such difficulties the police eventually identified two suspects. One, Muhammad Kashif Khan Kamran subsequently died in Pakistani custody: the other, Mohsin Ali Syed is alive and the subject of a British extradition request.

After the murder inquiry came other investigations. The police found not only piles of cash in the MQM’s buildings but also a receipt for weapons and explosives in Altaf Hussain’s home. The tax authorities started taking an interest and the MQM leader’s suggestion that his supporters play football with the heads of Karachi police officers led to a hate speech investigation.

And yet there were no charges. The MQM insists this is because it is innocent. Others have different theories. Increasing numbers of British members of parliament are asking why the cases are deadlocked. Even some of those under investigation have fully expected to be charged. Their own lawyers told them charges were inevitable.

UK protecting MQM?

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that had the MQM been a jihadi outfit there would have been charges long ago. Which raises the question: why is the British state protecting the MQM?
The answer is complicated because the reasons have changed over time. When Altaf Hussain first arrived in London the British saw him as an asset. There were regular contacts — several each week — between the MQM leadership, the Foreign Office and MI6. With a consistent haul of between 20 and 25 Members of the National Assembly, the MQM often held the balance of power in Pakistan and from time to time had federal ministers. When Britain needed things done in Pakistan it was in the happy position of having a powerful Pakistani politician beholden to British hospitality.

At various times an array of Pakistani politicians — driven, let us not forget, by self-interest rather than principle — demanded London make legal moves against the party. People who had been directly threatened in Altaf Hussain’s speeches paid visits to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad demanding action. All were brushed aside with the standard response: “He is a British citizen: it is none of your business”.

After Imran Farooq’s murder the mood of the British Foreign Office gradually began to change. Diplomats who in the past had said: “we have no evidence against the MQM” started to say: “of course, they are rather unsavoury but it’s a matter for the police”.

The British ship of state, it seemed, was adjusting itself to the possibility that there would indeed be charges.

But then a new factor come into play: it became known that two senior MQM officials had given statements to the British police that some of their funding came from India. Paradoxically, the revelation helped the MQM because it raised the possibility that evidence of India’s funding of terrorists could be heard in a British court. Indian officials made it clear that this would be unacceptable. Given the high priority Britain has given to improving its trade relationship with India, Delhi’s concerns were taken seriously.

Having initially been motivated by a desire to protect its own interests, London found itself trying to protect India’s. Which is why just a month ago there was every chance that all the cases would have been dropped.

The Aug 22 speech

And then Altaf Hussain made his August speech. The British police had become so accustomed to their investigations into the MQM leading nowhere that their initial response was to shrug their shoulders and say it was a matter for Karachi law enforcement authorities. But the speech and the divisions it created within the MQM had created a new political situation and the next day – when Scotland Yard rather belatedly realised this – the British police set up a new incitement investigation.

The incitement could satisfy everyone. The British could help overcome their PR problem in Pakistan by at last being able to say: “we have moved against the party, just as many Pakistanis demanded”. While Islamabad’s would prefer money laundering charges so that the Indian funding evidence is heard in a British court, it would welcome charges of any kind. For its part, India has no reason to stand in the way of a British trial as long as it steers clear of the funding issues.

So six years after Imran Farooq was murdered, the MQM has been bashed and battered but it has still not been knocked out. The pressure that Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is applying on London is having an impact, especially in the Foreign Office, but there is still some way to go before London decisively changes it attitude. These cases have a tendency to drag on longer than anyone expects but it should be the case that by the seventh anniversary of Imran Farooq’s death we will finally know the legal fate of the MQM’s London leadership. And the history of the whole story suggests that the outcome will depend not so much on the law but on politics.

- - - - -

And now the The New York Times has this to say on the issue:

By BEN JUDAH
DEC, 29, 2016

LONDON — Six years ago, the government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev nearly killed me. I remember it well, because it killed a man standing near me. It wasn’t specifically me, or him, they were trying to kill. They were simply firing live rounds at protesters.

This was a forgotten massacre in an overlooked country. The killings took place in Bishkek, the rickety capital of the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, at the start of the 2010 revolution that overthrew Mr. Bakiyev’s autocratic rule.

His regime had been about one thing: personal plunder. But the Kyrgyz people’s patience had finally worn out. That April I was among the crowd near the presidential palace chanting “Stop corruption now” when the guards started shooting.

I ran for my life, but the Kyrgyz man nearby was not so lucky. I saw his bloodied, punctured body being dragged away by other protesters. As the regime teetered and fell, Mr. Bakiyev fled and found refuge in Belarus. Some days later I paid a visit to the Bishkek morgue to record how many people had been shot. I saw plenty. More than 40 protesters were killed.

This is why it angers me that today, the dictator’s son and confidant, Maxim Bakiyev, lives in a mansion purchased in 2010 for $4.3 million in a London suburb less than 20 miles from my own family home. Little did I know, when I flew back after the Bishkek massacre, that Mr. Bakiyev was also traveling to Britain.

Of course, it was no surprise, because London has become a personal valet to men like him: It’s a dictators’ safe space, where billions of dollars are laundered through the London real estate market every year, contributing to what the National Crime Agency estimates to be an annual total of more $125 billion laundered in Britain.

In Kyrgyzstan, Maxim Bakiyev was convicted in absentia, in a series of cases over 2013 and 2014, for attempted murder, embezzlement of millions in state funds, illegal privatization of public land and corruption in selling off state assets; he received sentences varying from 25 years to life. His lawyers say the charges were politically motivated, and Mr. Bakiyev has claimed political asylum in Britain. (When I contacted the Home Office to request an update on the status of this claim, I was told that government policy is not to comment on any individual case.) In London, he has enjoyed a life of genteel seclusion, with a library, a home cinema and a bar.

The Bakiyev regime was always seen as a family affair, a kleptocratic triumvirate of the son, his father and his uncle. For this reason, Maxim Bakiyev has remained one of the most loathed figures in his hard-done-by homeland.

When I learned that Mr. Bakiyev lived in London, I decided to research the ownership of the mansion he lives in. But this one simple thing is impossible to discover; the true owner, and the true origins of the money, are cloaked under an anonymous offshore company registered in Belize.

The watchdog group Global Witness is calling for an investigation into Mr. Bakiyev’s affairs. The Kyrgyz authorities, according to Global Witness, believe that this Belize-registered company is linked to an alleged money-laundering scheme used to funnel state funds out of Kyrgyzstan. Global Witness’s 2015 report on Maxim Bakiyev, “Blood Red Carpet,” criticizes British authorities, lawyers and real estate agents for failing “to prevent a man linked to corruption and violence from setting up home in a luxury suburb in London.”

But how would it be otherwise? British law is on the side of the kleptocrats. All an autocrat on the run has to do is create a shell company to hide his identity and the source of his illicit wealth, and then use this instrument to purchase property incognito. Britain’s best-paid brokers and lawyers are here to help — and will ask no awkward questions about the provenance of their clients’ cash.

Such anonymous companies now own nearly 40,000 London properties. Some of these purchases may be entirely legitimate and innocent, but these tools of secrecy are well known to be favored by money launderers: The anticorruption organization Transparency International has found that this technique has been used for three-quarters of properties whose owners have been investigated for corruption in Britain.

Just because there aren’t bodies on the streets of London doesn’t mean London isn’t abetting those who pile them up elsewhere. The British establishment has long feigned ignorance of the business, but the London Laundromat is destroying the country’s reputation. Across the former Soviet Union, Britain is now seen as a partner in corruption, not democracy, for elites seeking to asset-strip their own states. The elected president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, has repeatedly called — in vain — for Britain to stop sheltering “a guy who robbed us.”

Amid this shame and gloom, one ray of light has emerged: a serious chance of the reforms we need to stop human rights abusers from using London real estate to hide their wealth. In Parliament, a growing cross-party band of members is seeking to amend the Criminal Finances Bill, now making its way through the legislative process.

This amendment, named after the Russian lawyer and corruption whistle-blower Sergei L. Magnitsky, who died in prison in suspicious circumstances, would allow officials and organizations like Global Witness to apply for a court order to freeze the assets of human rights violators. When presented with evidence and a clear public-interest case, government ministers would be legally bound to act.

Whether this reform is adopted will tell us much about who Prime Minister Theresa May really is. If her government kills the amendment, it will show that she is content for Britain to remain a safe haven for dictators — while London’s bankers, lawyers and real estate brokers make commissions on their blood money. It’s time London rolled up the red carpet.

Ben Judah is the author, most recently, of “This Is London.”