Pakistan set-up joint task force to recover looted money from abroad

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KARACHI: Pakistan on Wednesday decided to formally set up a joint taskforce to recover wealth earned through illegal means and stashed away in foreign bank accounts.

The decision was taken at a federal cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Islamabad. The coterie of ministers who attended the meeting included information minister Fawad Chaudhary and Shahzad Akbar, special assistant on accountability.

Among the measures to be introduced is the whistle blower act “which will provide a legal cover” to anyone who helps recover illegally-owned assets. While the identity of the whistle-blower will be kept confidential, he/she “will be rewarded with up to 20 percent of the recovered money”, Akbar said.

Recently, a committee set up by the Supreme Court estimated that around $150 billion worth of assets and properties were owned by Pakistanis in the United Arab Emirates alone.

In another list, presented to the court by the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, 225 Pakistani nationals were said to own properties in the United Kingdom. Authorities have issued notices to around 125 individuals to explain how they amassed the illegal wealth.

For decades, Pakistani politicians have resorted to blame-games — accusing each other of owning illegally-acquired wealth, stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will send a delegation to Switzerland to expedite [the process of] ratification of a treaty, signed in 2013, [which allows the seamless] exchange of information of bank accounts,” Akbar said.

The task force is required to submit its progress report to the prime minister every two weeks.

According to the terms of reference, the task force will summon the short-listed individuals, seeking a confirmation of their assets. Once confirmed, the individuals will need to provide a money trail detailing how they acquired the wealth or assets. Failure to provide the trail would allow law enforcement agencies to initiate a legal process against the individual or party and thereby seize the assets.

The government has expedited the process after a recently-launched amnesty scheme – encouraging overseas Pakistanis to declare illegally-acquired wealth by paying taxes at nominal rates – failed to achieve desired results.