Plea bargain or planned bargain?

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NAB fails to recover billions that corrupt agreed to pay

By Azaz Syed and Basit Ali Khan

ISLAMABAD: Although National Accountability Bureau  is under fire for recovering the looted money lesser than the corruption charges faced by the accused who are set free through controversial plea bargain, the statistics reveal that NAB even failed to collect the amount committed by the culprits.

The NAB is yet to draw more than 10 billion rupees from 108 such persons with whom an amount worth more than 18 billion was agreed to deposit in the national exchequer, analysis of ten-year (2006-2016) record shows. The data was tabled in Senate on February 16, 2017.

Detailed examination has found that the NAB was to recover Rs18.75 billion from the culprits, an amount agreed between the two sides under plea bargain; however, this anti-corruption watch dog could only obtain Rs7.91 billion which means 58% of the remaining agreed amount has yet to be settled.

 

 

Biggest and lowest defaulters

The infamous Double Shah scam tops among all the 108 defaulted cases. As many as Rs 8.18 billion has not been deposited to the national exchequer in that case. Victims of the said case seem not to get justice as the main accused Sibtul Hasan Shah known as Double Shah (who gained notoriety by starting a Ponzi scheme) died on October 30th 2015.

Haroon Ahmed, director of Rauf International Advisory Services, is the second biggest defaulter who owes Rs 67.29 million to national exchequer. A corruption case was filed against him by the NAB’s Lahore chapter. Izzat Baig, an officer of National Bank of Pakistan, is third in the row of top defaulters. He is yet to pay Rs21.50 million.

Among the lowest amount defaulters of NAB, Nisar Ahmed and others have failed to deposit Rs10,000. However, they have returned Rs13.10 million. In yet another case of Karachi NAB, Shahzad Ali Shah, a businessman is yet to deposit Rs.52,832 in the national exchequer. The amount return by him so far is only Rs193,680. Abdul  Shakir  of Karachi is the third lowest defaulter of NAB. He had illegally allotted shops in Karachi Saddar. Out of the amount he agreed, Rs164,350 has not been paid yet.

Years of default

The year 2009 remained the worst in terms of recovery as an amount Rs8.18 billion was defaulted by the corrupt despite plea bargain agreements with the NAB. The 2016 remained the second most damaging year for NAB when an amount of Rs.1.22 billion was defaulted.

An amount of Rs.1257000 was defaulted in 2007, the lowest defaulting year for NAB.

Differences of amounts

While searching on the issue, it was found out that huge differences at 1st stage of evaluation between the alleged and the determined amounts and 2nd at the stage of determined and agreed amount during the last ten years.

According to the NAB data, total alleged amount during the said period is Rs 41.07 billion; however, after the evaluation an amount Rs 28.03 billion has been determined.  At the second stage when the evaluation is done between the determined and agreed amount, yet another big difference was noted. Out of Rs 28.03 billion amount determined to have been embezzled, the NAB chose to agree on the return of Rs18.71 billion thus writing off Rs9.31 billion.

 

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“It is a common practice that the investigators who determine the embezzled amount in a corruption case are later also involved in the process of negotiation with the accused,” said Barrister Idrees Bhatti, the former prosecutor of NAB. While considering the financial worth of the accused, they broker a deal of amount recovery mutually agreed by both sides, he said.

The former prosecutor agreed that there is no set procedure for settling such corruption matters. The NAB officials currently in services were reluctant to speak when contacted by the CIRP.

The NAB, in its data provided to Senate, claimed that there were 940 cases of corruption during ten years in which the plea bargain agreements were signed. However, the CIRP found that out of total 940 cases, the NAB actually provided details of 769 cases. No data of 171 cases was shared with the Parliament. Intriguingly, all the missing 171 cases were settled in 2015-16.

 

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In this regard the top officials of NAB, when contacted, while requesting anonymity defended the plea bargain law saying that this law at least brings back some looted money back to the government exchequer. The two officials contacted who spoke with the CIRP argued that the money deposited in the national exchequer can be compared with the money which was deposited through the courts explaining their recovery rate is higher than what was done through courts.

One NAB official highlighted the constraints they face in the legal battle. “While we can only engage lawyers who are on our payroll whereas the corrupt accused spend a generous amount of money on hiring expensive lawyers who keep seeking adjournment if the situation doesn’t go in their favor. Subsequently, the cases continue for years and government gets nothing rather the national exchequer lose more by investing time and money,” the official explained.

He added that during the course of action the seized money gets devalued and property faces maintenance-related issues. And the courts take years to decide such cases. On the other hand, when NAB strikes a deal with the corrupt the national exchequer receives money whereas the corrupt gets black listed and ten years ban from politics and a life-time ban on government service despite a removal from the service.

 

 

 

 

Main image credit: Voices of Liberty