A global anti-corruption wave

When other countries like Saudi Arabia and China are achieving quick results, Pakistan’s accountability process makes us look like a country where no one is serious about our national wealth and doomed economy

While ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif repeatedly complains that he is being targeted singularly on charges of corruption, it may give him some solace that corruption is now the top agenda item the world over, especially money laundering and tax evasion. Some examples are:

-A story not really covered by the Pakistani media is about the European Union (EU) putting 17 countries, including UAE, Panama and Bahrain, on a ‘blacklist’ and 47 countries including Turkey and Switzerland on a ‘gray list’. Blacklisted countries will no longer be allowed international financial operations by EU institutions. The 47 states on the watch list have committed to changing their tax rules to abide by EU standards on transparency and cooperation.

-A Singapore website, Ethical Alliance, daily lists the latest actions by world governments against graft, loot and plunder and its reports are growing and spreading like a bush fire in California.

It reported the following in just a week’s time:

– Brazilian state oil company will receive about $201 million in funds recovered from the country’s largest-ever corruption investigation, known as Car Wash.

– Suleiman Kerimov, a Russian billionaire and senator, was charged with laundering money gained through tax fraud in Nice (Italy) and prohibited from leaving the French region after being detained by authorities for two days.

– Chinese Gen Zhang Yang, under investigation for corruption, committed suicide in the latest development in a sweeping anti-graft campaign that has shaken the armed forces.

A story not covered in the Pakistani media is about the European Union (EU) putting 17 countries, including UAE, Panama and Bahrain, on a ‘blacklist’ and 47 countries including Turkey and Switzerland on a ‘gray list’

– German industrial group Siemens is negotiating a settlement worth more than £227.7 million with Brazilian state prosecutors in a probe into allegations of bribery to win train contracts.

These are just a fraction of the scores of cases listed on the website from all over the world.

But hats off to Saudi Arabia that has shaken the world and in a swift and ruthless operation recovered some $300 billion from its corrupt royalty including princes, shaikhs and their frontmen.

Well known to Pakistanis, BBC senior journalist Lyse Doucet had a rare scoop with her special report from what she called the five-star prison in Riyadh where she stayed with the detained royal thieves last week. Her report gives hair-raising accounts of how the corrupt should be handled to achieve results.

“They didn’t believe what was happening,” an official pursuing this anti-corruption operation told her. “They thought it was just a show which wouldn’t last long. Sure they were angry. If you tell someone ‘you are a thief’, they get angry. Imagine if they are a VIP.”

She reports: “We’re sitting in one of the lobby’s elegant clusters of sofas and plush chairs along with an official from the public prosecutor’s office. Why bring them here? she asks. “We were afraid some people would have escaped so we had to keep them inside,” is the explanation for this strange, if not shocking, fate for people they refer to as ‘special guests’.

Other reports said one prince was behaving nutty and was hanged by his feet before he agreed to cough up one billion dollars. Others got the hint and in weeks this operation may be over, with these thieves giving back billions to return to their homes but with no prospect of ever again gaining political power. Almost 90 per cent of those detained agreed to pay back the looted money in exchange for a pardon, according to the Saudi attorney general.

Interestingly, a 32-year old crown prince did all this. A statement said that 320 people were taken into custody last month while 159 are currently being detained. Those who denied the allegations or refused settlements face prosecution.

All these developments are closely linked to what is happening in Pakistan and how it is happening. When EU countries stop transactions with UAE, Turkey and Swiss banks, how will our corrupt elite be hit?

Dubai is reported to have billions of dollars of Pakistani investments and if that money cannot be moved, many big hearts will just stop beating. Restrictions imposed by the western countries on Dubai, Turkey and other safe havens will make life very difficult for our corrupt power elites.

Likewise, there are reports that after sorting out the royalty, the Saudis are also going after many big international investors like Bangladesh leader Khalida Zia and our former PM Nawaz Sharif.

Compared to what is going on worldwide, the accountability process in Pakistan appears to be a velvet-glove affair with a non-serious soft legal process.

Under-trial high profile accused feel like enjoying a picnic in official bullet-proof protocol escorts and with complete freedom to move globally, besides forging and faking sickness excuses to avoid courts and prosecutors.

They are also allowed freedom of speech to the extent that they abuse the courts and challenge the judges and prosecutors, besides politicising the whole process and equating their cases of corruption, loot and plunder to political victimisation.

When other countries like Saudi Arabia, and China are achieving quick results, Pakistan’s accountability process makes us look like a country where no one is serious about national wealth, doomed economy or catching thieves.

If we do not match the world and look serious, the whole nation will get painted as a crowd of crooks who rob one another and are happy to get robbed.

But no one will have any moral, legal or even religious objection if we followed the Saudi example. Afterall, Nawaz Sharif wanted to become a monarch, he likes the Saudis and what is wrong if their style of accountability is also adopted.

The writer is a senior journalist

Published in Daily Times, December 8th 2017.