APP63-13 ISLAMABAD: December 13 - Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability, Barrister Shahzad Akbar addressing a press conference at PID Media Center. APP photo by Saleem Rana

ISLAMABAD, Dec 13 (APP):Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar Friday said Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Aurangzeb should seek answers of question asked by him from her leader Shehbaz Sharif instead of misleading the public with her concocted statements regarding the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU).

Maryam Aurangzeb, he said, had been provided full information regarding her queries on the ARU’s achievements, its administrative expenditure, details of the tours made by the ARU officials, including Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability, who heads the unit, and expenses incurred on them, and the authority under which the same were conducted, besides any proposal to carry out performance-based audit of such unit.

Shahzad Akbar said he had also raised 18 questions for her leader Mian Shehbaz Sharif, which were still unattended. Maryam Aurangzeb should better ask her leader to give answer of those questions instead of making attempts for a way out, he said while addressing a press conference.

Responding to her allegations levelled in a media talk, Shahzad Akbar said Khurram Dastagir had criticized the Anti-Corruption Department of Punjab as it had retrieved its land worth Rs129 billion from his illegal possession.

He said Maryam’s queries had no substance as she had no knowledge of the ARU’s structure and its working. He said the establishment of ARU was approved by the Federal Cabinet for recovery of unlawful assets abroad. It was headed by him and comprised representatives of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and private sector.

Assets Recovery Unit was in fact a coordinating unit, which provided a forum to law enforcement agencies and relevant institutions to trace / detect new cases and fast track all existing cases of off-shore assets made from unlawfully acquired wealth at home and their repatriation, he added.

“The afore-mentioned agencies and organizations eventually recover the looted public money either through taxation, plea bargain or direct recovery, as the case may be,” he explained.

He said a task force formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018 had recommended that all the law enforcing and investigation bodies, which were working in silos, required a unified platform to share information for swift investigation and recoveries in different cases. The present government acted upon that recommendation by setting up ARU.

Shahzad Akbar said all the departments, which were called dysfunctional by Maryam Aurangzeb, were now doing their assigned jobs properly. The Anti-Corruption Department Punjab had recovered misappropriated billions of rupees from accused in various investigations, while the FBR made of recoveries over Rs 7billion in the form of assets and NAB got back looted public money in plea bargains.

Similarly, the FIA had recovered around Rs 7 billion in cash and lands worth billions of rupees, he added.

Answering Maryam’s question pertaining to the ARU’s expenditure, Shahzad Akbar said it had incurred Rs 15.338 million expenditure during the financial year 2018-19 and Rs 8.282 million during the current financial year till October 2019, which had even been verified by the Accountant General Pakistan Revenues (AGPR). The expenses also included salaries of ARU’s staff and officers, he added.

He said the Auditor General of Pakistan carried out audit of the Assets Recovery Unit annually.

As regards settlement of Malik Riaz and his family with the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, he said it was an out of court settlement, whose details were not released due to as per its terms and conditions. “There is no state secret in it whereas the agreement has a provision to avoid passing remarks on it.”

He said the Agency had issued orders for freezing eight assets of the family. The first one was seized in December, 2018, and the remaining in July-August, 2019. After proper proceedings, the settlement was reached with the family. It was a civil recovery and according to the press release issued by the Agency there was no criminal act involved so the accusations of money laundering in the case lacked credence.

He said: “I only met him (Malik Riaz) in the United Kingdom to hold negotiations for the out of court settlement and there is no other thing.”

The SAPM said NAB was completely independent but due to certain systematic hiccups the accountability process faced delay. “Our law has the provision that no trial could be carried out in absentia that has benefited the under trial Hamza Shahbaz, who states that Salman Shahbaz, who has fled to London, will answer the questions made during investigation,” he added.

About removal of Maryam Nawaz’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL), he said the Ministry of Interior had not yet contacted the ARU. On receipt of a letter from the ministry in that regard, they would look into the matter whether there was any precedent that a convicted person was sent abroad for inquiring after his / her ailing father while some family members were already there to look after him.

Shahzad Akbar said the Federal Government had written a letter the UK government to take care of the convicted Mian Nawaz Sharif. The bail granted to Nawaz Sharif by the Islamabad High Court on medical grounds was about to end and for its extension, he would have to approach the court, he added.