Amended AML bill to give excessive powers to investigators, NA told

  • Opposition fears the bill could be used for political victimisation

ISLAMABAD: As leading politicians are facing cases related to money laundering, the opposition members in a parliamentary panel strongly opposed the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Amendment Bill 2019, proposed by the government to meet the demands of Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue members, mostly from the opposition benches, vehemently opposed the amended bill, saying that it would give excessive powers to the investigators. They also feared that the same could be used for political victimisation.

They said that they were aware of the FATF difficulties but “cannot allow this legislation in the current shape”.

The reaction from opposition members came soon after a senior official of the finance ministry gave a presentation on the proposed amendments in the AML law.

Additional Secretary (Finance) Sohail Hashmi had proposed two major amendments in AML laws – making the offence cognizable and increasing the punishment of the offence up to ten years and fine up to Rs5 million from existing Rs1 million.

Through the proposed amendments, the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) was being facilitated to become a member of other countries’ financial units for exchange and access to information, the additional secretary informed.

“Powers are being given to the investigating officers to arrest any person involved in the offences, besides attaching suspected property for 180 days,” he stated.

The committee was also informed that FATF’s time limit of taking action was being removed as FATF wanted prompt and immediate action on suspicious transaction.

As soon as the briefing by the finance ministry’s official concluded, Syed Naveed Qamar of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said, “This is not an acceptable piece of legislation as the law does not provide any check to the power of investigating officers. This bill will not be passed and the government has to draft in a way that it is not generalized to win the support of the opposition members.”

Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh on the occasion expressed fear the “law (with excessive and unchecked powers to the investigating officer) will lead to more harassment and corruption”.

He added, “There is no punishment if investigating offices implicate an innocent person.”

Aysha Ghaus Pasha said that AML/CFT has to be curtailed but with check and balance on investigating officers.

MNA Faizullah, the committee chairman, also agreed with the members’ concerns with regard to powers to the investigating officers and stated that the absence of advisor to the prime minister on finance from such an important meeting was regrettable.

“I don’t see the government’s will to deal with the grave challenge the country is facing otherwise finance advisor and secretary would have been in the meeting to respond to the concerns on the proposed AML (Amendment Bill 2019),” he rearmed.

Hina Rabbani Khar advised the committee chairman not to conduct any meeting in this regard if finance advisor or secretary do not come to the committee.

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Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]
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