Corruption Without Borders

Facilitating illegal activities such as money-laundering and tax evasion, many of Pakistan’s laws prevent the authorities from taking meaningful action against the culprits. Mian Nawaz Sharif's indictment indicates a change may be in the offing but maybe it is too early for anyone to start celebrating.

Posted on 11/28/17
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
(Image by Klinkin)

The Nawaz Sharif episode shows that pervasive corruption has not only acquired respectability in a perverse manner in Pakistan but left to the National Assembly (NA), may even acquire legality. Political instability, poverty, unequal structure of society, unemployment, lack of accountability, weak political institutions, absence of rule of law, etc, are contributory factors causing an unequal distribution of resources, sapping of confidence among local and foreign investors, weak governance, etc. A leading expert on corruption, J.G. Lambsdorff says, “The abuse of power in order to serve private interest is widespread in Pakistan. Corruption will thrive particularly in a setting where accountable governance structures and processes are weak, very much the case in Pakistan.  For corruption to flourish certain key pre-conditions such as imperatives and incentives must exist that encourage corrupt practices, availability of opportunities for personal gains, access and control over the means of corruption with limited risks of exposure and punishment”, unquote.


Pakistan’s centralized system of bureaucracy inherited from the British but without the inherent checks and balances facilitates corruption by politicians, the military once they become comfortable in power and for themselves. The constitutional security given to civil servants having been taken away by ZA Bhutto when lateral entry was introduced in place of merit-based competitive selection, motivated promotions and postings made political interference possible. Politicians became all-powerful on this Client-Patron relationship. Tasked to serve vested interests at the cost of the national interest, the major task of “political” bureaucrats included ensuring a favourable vote count for politicians irrespective of the real voter preference. With their knowledge of rules and regulations our “politicized” bureaucrats help the incumbent rulers by changing or amending them in innovative ways to circumvent “problems”.


The regime changes of the 1950s was repeated between 1990 and 1999 when four democratic governments were either dismissed or overturned on charges of corruption and allegations of misuse of power. Despite corruption being rampant no one was punished for being corrupt in this game of musical chairs between Ms Benazir and Mian Nawaz Sharif.  With off-shore companies becoming fashionable, the leaked Panama Papers (and now Paradise Papers) exposed the illegal accounts of public officials, drug kingpins, money launderers, etc. Claimed as not illegal by some of our renowned lawyers and chartered accountants, why help the corrupt escape accountability by setting up such offshore companies/accounts at secretive locations to hide illegal wealth and avoid taxation except to collect huge fees? These “professionals” camouflage their illegality by technical rhetoric and legal jargons but like financial institutions play an integral role as full-time accessories to the crimes of their clients.


Effective laws for anti-money laundering notwithstanding, corrupt politicians and others, criminals included, will always find loopholes in the banking legal system around the world and banks willing to handle their ill-gotten money and bribery payments in safe havens. They then set-up anonymous off-shore companies and trusts that allow them to hide their identity.  This is done without technically breaking any rules to access the global financial system with almost impunity. Failing in their due diligence they are complicit in corrupt practices in the transfer and deposit of stolen funds.  Millions have been stashed abroad with no questions, whether tax was paid at its source in Pakistan. Many expensive apartments in London are owned by known white-collar criminals comprising former dictators, bank defaulters, tax evaders, money-launderers, etc. The utter hypocrisy of the British legal system is exposed by Scotland Yard protecting Altaf Hussain to hide his connections with India by covering up the money-laundering and murders done on his express instructions.


Crooked real estate agents aid the corrupt by showing ways to invest ill-gotten wealth in land holdings, within Pakistan and abroad. According to a 2015 expose in The Daily Beast, “London, the World’s Money Laundering Capital”, “London has become the money-laundering capital of the world with billions of dollars in stolen funds illegally hidden in the city’s booming property market. A team of undercover reporters, one of whom was disguised as a corrupt Russian politician, secretly recorded some of London’s top real estate agents offering to help facilitate illicit transactions despite British laws that require the agents to report suspicious activity to the authorities. The real estate agents selling properties worth up to $25 million said they didn’t want to know the details, others offered detailed advice about how to funnel the cash through shell companies operating anonymously.” Unquote.


To keep their appointments and status the close associates of corrupt public office holders simply look the other way. Consider the Constitutional Amendment allowing a person disqualified by the Supreme Court (SC) from holding public office, the oath of allegiance of those who voted for Nawaz Sharif is not to the State but to their dependency and servitude to their Patron. Quite possible these people may not be corrupt themselves but by actively carrying out the instructions of their boss or passively condoning it they are facilitators of corruption and thus guilty as willing accessories to the crime committed by their bosses. Forgetting their past association conveniently these hypocrites spout rhetoric about high ideals and lofty principles forgetting they had turned a blind eye to the illegal activities of their superiors. Why does the Opposition refrain from making the entire proceeds of the Supreme Court (SC) judgment (and subsequent review petition) a part of the records of the NA?


The wishful perception being propagated by the PPP is that the Army is preparing Asif Zardari as an anti-dote to Nawaz Sharif. On the scale of accountability not only for corruption but for murder and mayhem, Nawaz Sharif comes out a “patron Saint” as compared to Zardari.  The convoluted logic behind this motivated story notwithstanding, no one in his right mind is about to commit “hari-kari” by and reverse the progress that the Superior Judiciary has had the courage and conviction to adopt.


Facilitating illegal activities such as money-laundering and tax evasion, many of Pakistan’s laws prevent the authorities from taking meaningful action against the culprits. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s indictment indicates a change may be in the offing but maybe it is too early for anyone to start celebrating. Calling himself an “ideology”, Nawaz Sharif is openly projecting “corruption” as the new ideology for Pakistan. When you facilitate, tolerate and/or salute corruption, this makes you not only a hypocrite but a willing accessory thereof.  Those blatantly condoning and facilitating of corruption must be taken to task or the Sharif ideology “corruption without borders” (with apologies to Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors without Borders) will really become Pakistan’s new ideology.

The writer is a security and defense analyst.


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