LAHORE: It finally happened. The almost year-long efforts to arrest former prime minister Imran Khan came to an end in the hustle and bustle of a sweltering Tuesday afternoon outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
Since being ousted from power, Khan has been hounded by law enforcement agencies over literally hundreds of different cases. He has over time alleged that all of the cases have been cooked up in a deliberate exercise in political victimisation instigated by the incumbent federal government and the military establishment which wishes to see him behind bars.
But after multiple armed showdowns at his Zaman Park residence in Lahore and raids on his Bani Gala residence in Islamabad, what has Khan finally been taken into custody for? Initial reports are emerging that it is over the Al-Qadir Trust Case currently being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
But what exactly are the details of the Al-Qadir Trust Case? To put it mildly the case is perhaps one of the most clouded and murky webs from the Imran Khan administration and involves among other real estate tycoons, Malik Riaz. The case due to which he has been summoned goes all the way back to 2019, and involves accusations of bribery, corruption, and kickbacks against the government of former prime minister Imran Khan.
What is the case about?
In 2019, the National Crime Agency (NCA) of the United Kingdom agreed to a settlement worth £190 million with the family of property tycoon Malik Riaz. The settlement was the largest ever in the history of the NCA, and since it was out of court, came with the stipulation that it did not “represent a finding of guilt”.
To understand this, the NCA is a national law enforcement agency in the UK that investigates money laundering and illicit finances derived from criminal activity in the UK and abroad. If the NCA is investigating a case outside of the UK, it returns the stolen money to the affected state. So if the agency is investigating fraud or money laundering in Pakistan, it will prosecute or make a settlement in the UK and return the money to the Pakistani government.
That is what happened in the case of Malik Riaz. His family had been under a ‘dirty money’ NCA investigation for a while, which reached its conclusion with the £190 million. However, the matter gets murky with the entrance of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, who apparently on the behest of Malik convinced the NCA to settle the matter and return the money to Pakistan.
On Dec 5, 2019, Mr Akbar announced at a press conference in Islamabad that £140m had been repatriated to Pakistan, into the Supreme Court’s account. When asked how the money could be transferred to the SC account, he deflected the question saying that the government, NCA and Mr Riaz had signed a “deed of confidentiality” which prevented him from elaborating on the matter.
The Al-Qadir equation — What happened to the money?
We don’t quite know, and this is where the web gets really intricate. Essentially, the accusation is that the £140m that was repatriated to Pakistan after Shahzad Akbar’s intervention with the NCA on behalf of Malik Riaz went straight back into the bank account of the property tycoon.
After coming to power, the incumbent PDM government accused former prime minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi of accepting billions in cash and hundreds of kanals of land from Bahria Town in return for the help that Khan’s government gave to Riaz during his investigation by the NCA. Interior minister Rana Sanaullah claimed that Bahria Town entered an agreement and gave a 458-kanal land with an on-paper value of Rs 530 million to a trust owned by Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi. The land was donated to Al-Qadir Trust, and the agreement bore signatures of the real estate’s donors and Bushra Bibi.
Sanaullah claimed that Imran’s aide Shehzad Akbar had “settled” the entire case, while the Rs 50 billion-which belonged to the national treasury-was adjusted against Bahria Town’s liability. He said Imran had received a graft of Rs 5 billion as “his share” through Akbar before the case was wrapped. He further said that Bahria Town, after its Rs 50 billion was protected by the then PTI government, had allotted 458 Kanal land with an on-paper value of Rs 530 million to a trust owned by Imran and his wife. He further said that another 240 Kanals were transferred to “Farah Shehzadi” commonly known as Farah-a close friend of Bushra Bibi.
It is these 458-kanals that have now come under the scrutiny of the accountability bureau. In the call-up notice served to Malik Riaz dated the 24th of November, he has been asked to appear with documentary evidence to record his statement regarding purchase of 458 Kanals 04 Marlas 58 square feet situated in Hadbast No. 77 at Mauza Barkala, Tehsil Sohawa, District Jhelum.
The apex anti-graft body required Malik Riaz Hussain to present a complete record regarding Similarly, he has been asked to produce the deed through which M/s Bahria Town donated the above said land to Al-Qadir Trust alongwith revenue documents. Likewise, details of other property/donation (if any) transferred by him, any of his family members of M/s Bahria Town in favour of Al-Qadir Trust or any of its trustees, whether through sale/purchase, gift, donation or any other mode. Moreover, any other relevant information/record.
NAB had earlier sent notices to the former premier Imran Khan’s 21 cabinet members including Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Murad Saeed, Pervaiz Khattak, Shafqat Mehmood, Shireen Mazari, Ali Haider Zaidi and Hammad Azhar, Dr Shireen Mazari, Shafqat Mahmood, Asad Umar for recording of their statements. NAB also summoned Ali Riaz Malik, the son of Malik Riaz who is the founder of Bahria Town.
The timing of the arrest tells us the full story. Attempts to arrest Khan have been ongoing for many months now, but it finally happened only a day after the former premier named senior military officials blaming them for ousting him from power and for the assassination attempt on his life.
This morning, on his way to the IHC, Khan had doubled down on his statement. The doubling down had come after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the ISPR both issued strongly worded statements condemning Khan’s claims. While the cases against Khan, particularly one of the magnitude of the Al-Qadir Trust Case, deserve to be investigated in a free and fair manner the timing of the arrest indicates this being less than above board. In the long run, this will also end up affecting the legitimacy of the investigation into the case itself.
The interior minister said that subsequently property of 240 kanals in Bani Gala and another 458-kanal property was registered in the trust’s name. Sanaullah said he had previously provided details of the properties and had challenged the PTI chief to answer that “Al-Qadir trust was made by you to hide this corruption and bribery.”