The glaring apathy of the developed world towards cases of well-known corruption taking refuge in their countries to secure ill-gotten gains is scandalous. Attending seminars and conferences focussed on countering corruption, one frequently listens to technocrats from the developed world pontificating about dealing with corruption in the third (and developing) world, this is an arrogant premise that developed countries are free from corruption. The ultimate hypocrisy is allowing the corrupt to transfer their looted money into their country for purchasing of real estate, miscellaneous investments, etc, well aware that almost their wealth is ill-gotten and tainted.
Most of those owning expensive apartments in the golden square mile around Hyde Park in London are not crooks, the crooks seamlessly mingling with those who have made their money legally gives them legitimacy. Strict laws about illicit money flows and money-laundering notwithstanding, the British government conveniently turns a blind eye, increasing manifold if “Brexit” happens. Repeated requests that the host government at the very least enquire about taxes paid in the country of origin by such people evoked condescending silence from the panel of experts.
The irony is that the British are rhetorically active in the fight to eliminate money-laundering, this is undercut by lax corporate rules making it an attractive destination for global “organized crime”. More than two dozen UK-based front companies are currently under suspicion for money-laundering. The entitlement of company directors to secrecy under UK law hinders attempts to identify the really big criminals. Quoting Jim Armitage, Deputy Business Editor “Independent”, “front companies in the UK are at the heart of an investigation into one of Europe’s biggest money-laundering operations, allegedly forming part of a conspiracy to make $20bn (£12.5bn) of dirty money look legitimate. These funds come from major criminals and corrupt officials around the world wanting to make their ill-gotten cash appear “clean”, so they can spend it without suspicion.” What about the certified chartered accountants acting as “Consultants” for such criminals?
The vast majority of corrupt comprise the “needy” (about 95%), a relatively small percentage make up the “greedy” (less than 5%). A clear distinction must be made between the “greedy” who siphon off more than 95% of the illegal money and the “needy” who struggle to put food on the table for their families, pay their rent, electric, water and children’s school fees, medical bills, rickshaw and bus fares, etc. Forced by economic circumstances into corruption, almost 100% of the illegally acquired money of the needy goes back into the country’s economy.
Legitimate businesses make an excellent camouflage as a conduit for laundering money. Criminals require official documentation to legitimize their illegal money, today’s electronic-aided forensics can uncover this in a day, if they have not paid (or underpaid) taxes at the origin of their source of wealth. The recipient countries of such largesse which shore up their economy will never practice what they preach. Widespread tax evasion fuels money-laundering as well as manipulating and monopolizing of financial markets. Where would real estate prices in London around Hyde Park be without massive Pakistani “investment” in luxury apartments?
Theoretically all transactions must be open for detailed public scrutiny in a democracy, this oversight is impossible without an honest media. Our electronic or print media will never allow adverse facts to appear against those entities who spend huge amounts for their advertisements directly. The subverting of the integrity of editors/anchors/media owners has badly eroded the credibility of fair-minded objective reporting and analysis, moreover why are names and shenanigans of the corrupt regularly edited out for whatever reason from articles, news items, etc? This lack of accountability allows corruption to flourish and turn democracy into a farce.
Corruption is corruption, whether by the “needy” or “greedy”. The masses of the developing world desperately require accountability to be implemented in letter and spirit by the developed world (and tax-havens) applying their own strict laws to the Asif Zardaris of the world. Incidentally does he pay any taxes in the many countries he has stashed his ill-gotten money and assets in? Does the first world care as long as he keeps on bringing in the money in sacks? Are they concerned that he avoided court hearing in Switzerland on grounds of being mental? Unfortunately we do not punish perjury, the gentlemanly phrase for “outright lies”. Automatic and severe punishment must act as a deterrent of sorts for all those who vie for public office, the developed world has documented repeated convictions due to perjury, the drop in corruption being commensurate with that of perjury.
Take the case of a scoundrel occupying a constitutional post of high integrity who requested US$10000 from one of our Embassies to pay the medical bills for “his wife’s illness”. After depositing the cheque in his own account, he claimed having lost the cheque. Another payment for US$10000 was only prevented when the Embassy suggested investigation by an official agency of the host country about the lost cheque, this man immediately withdrew his request. Constitutional hypocrisy prevents us from making this known corrupt rascal accountable. Occupying the principal post in the country symbolizing honesty and integrity, this geriatric has acquired wealth far beyond his known income and yet his greed is insatiable. Whatever his age, accountability will have no meaning unless such greedy scoundrels are put behind bars.
Attending the funeral prayers of Capt. Umair Abdullah Abbasi and three soldiers killed in action in Shawal valley a few days ago, Gen Raheel Sharif said, “the Army will go to any length to root out terrorism”, adding that “martyrs’ blood will not go in vain”. I met Umair briefly at the wedding of Brig Taj’s grandson, this young handsome young officer was the bride’s brother. While one’s heart goes out to our Shaheeds and applauding the COAS sentiments, one continues to wait with increasing frustration for action against the corrupt because of whom terrorism has taken roots in Pakistan. Rhetoric is important but only concrete and effective action to follow it can honor Shaheeds like our Umair. Has the military hierarchy worked out an endgame, or does confusion still persist about the aims and objectives?
With our “democratically” elected rulers openly decrying those having the effrontery to question their daylight robbery, the populace is becoming increasingly skeptic about the process of accountability reaching its logical conclusion. When establishing the rule of law becomes the domain of those who live outside the rule of law, accountability becomes a figment of imagination. When criminals function in the name of justice, justice becomes a crime.
(The writer is a defense and security analyst).