LONDON: The United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has accepted an offer of a staggering £190 million from the family of property tycoon and businessman Malik Riaz after a month-long investigation into property and accounts connected to them.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, the agency named Mr Malik Riaz Hussain and said the settlement included a UK property, namely 1 Hyde Park Place, London, W2 2LH, valued at approximately £50 million as well as funds in the frozen UK bank accounts of Mr Riaz’s family.
It described Mr Riaz as a Pakistani national whose business is one of the biggest private sector employers in Pakistan, and said that his family owns large property developments in Pakistan and elsewhere.
In a short statement posted to Twitter following the NCA announcement, Mr Riaz said: “Some habituals are twisting the NCA report 180 degrees to throw mud at me. I sold our legal & declared property in the UK to pay 190m £ to Supreme Court [of] Pakistan against Bahria Town Karachi.”
Mr Riaz added in his tweet: “[The] NCA press release says the settlement is a civil matter and does not represent a finding of guilt. I am a proud Pakistan and I will remain until I breath[e] my last.”
He also shared a document captioned Note to the Editors. It stated: “The funds were frozen as potentially recoverable property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (as amended by the Criminal Finances Act 2017). The proceedings were against the funds themselves and not against any named individual.”
Earlier in March, a three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed had accepted a Rs460bn offer by Bahria Town to implement the court’s judgement which held that the grant of land to the Malir Development Authority (MDA) by the Sindh government, its exchange with the private land of the developer and anything done under the provisions of the Colonisation of Government Land Act, 1912 by the provincial government were illegal and of no legal existence.
It is not clear under which mechanism the funds being repatriated to Pakistan by the NCA would be paid towards the SC settlement. It is also unclear when Mr Riaz sold the UK property, as mentioned in his statement. A spokesperson for Bahria Town did not respond to Dawn’s request for details.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability and Minister of State on Interior Mirza Shahzad Akbar tweeted a press release issued by his office to state: “[The] ARU facilitates repatriation of £190 million ($250 million approx.) through a settlement, GOP is appreciative of help & assistance of UK Govt and NCA in the matter.”
The press release explained that the settlement between the UK’s NCA and the family of Mr Riaz was made out of court. It also mentions twice “the settlement is a civil matter and does not represent a finding of guilt”.
Calling the repatriated funds as a victory for the government, the newly appointed minister said: “The repatriation of funds is the result of an out-of-court settlement in a civil matter and is a success story of the close cooperation of the UK and Pak’s multiple LEAs and efforts made since last year’s justice and accountability partnership created between the two countries.”
Mr Akbar in his statement also made reference to Hasan Nawaz, son of former prime minister and PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, as being “the previous owner of the property”.
Senior advocate Salman Akram Raja, who had represented the Sharif family in the Panama Papers case, said: “It appears as per my reading of the facts coming from the media that the NCA has taken issue with funds that have to do with Malik Riaz and family. The sale by Hasan Nawaz or the sale of 1 Hyde Park by him is not in question. What was in question was the funds used by the Riaz family to acquire that property.”
When contacted for a comment on this development, a senior communications officer of the NCA said: “Please find [a] link to our website about how the NCA work[s] to tackle illicit finance. However, we cannot provide any further comment on this case specifically.”
The first record of the NCA’s move to probe the property and assets belonging to Mr Riaz in the UK surfaced in December 2018, shortly after the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) came into power.
The crime agency in a press release dated August 14, 2019 stated: “The NCA has been granted freezing orders on eight bank accounts containing a total of more than £100 million, which is suspected to have derived from bribery and corruption in an overseas nation. Approximately £20m held by a linked individual was frozen following a hearing in December 2018.”
It added that the Account Freezing Orders (AFOs) were obtained at the Westminster Magistrates Court on Aug 12, and that they represent “the largest amount of money frozen using AFOs” since they were introduced under the UK’s Criminal Finances Act 2017.
“The orders will allow the NCA to further investigate the funds. If found to be derived from — or intended for use in — unlawful conduct, the NCA will seek to recover the money,” the August statement added.
UK authorities such as the NCA often target economic crime using civil court proceedings, when the standard of evidence required to be successful in a civil case is lower. Individuals are not punished in civil proceedings, but the courts have the power to give ruling in favour of one party or another. Parties may and are often encouraged to settle civil proceedings without coming to court.
“Generally, parties have a wide degree of freedom as to the terms on which they settle such disputes, including terms which keep certain aspects of the settlement confidential between the parties, the NCA’s approach is to be as transparent as possible and keep any confidentiality to a minimum,” the NCA website stated.