UK-based NCA (National Crime Agency) has recently entered an agreement with Pakistan’s property tycoon Malik Riaz worth £190 million. The out of court civil settlement is largest till date for NCA. The NCA investigates money laundering and criminal finances resulting from criminal activity in UK and abroad. In the case of the latter, stolen money is returned to affected states. Riaz had been the subject of a ‘dirty money’ probe by the Agency for some time. On Dec 3, 2019 it announced a £190 million out-of-court civil settlement with Mr Riaz adding that it “did not represent a finding of guilt”.
After the deal with NCA, Mr. Riaz tweeted, “I sold our legal & declared property in UK to pay 190M £ to Supreme Court Pakistan against Bahria Town Karachi.”
In March 2019, Pakistan Supreme Court had accepted Riaz’s offer of rs 460bn as settlement by his real estate firm Bahria Town Ltd after it was found that the firm was built on illegally acquired land outside Karachi in district Malir. The $3 billion sale was historic. But the settlement with NCA, aided by Pakistani government was more of a travesty, that led to acquittal of Mr. Riaz.
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Lawyer Farrukh Qureshi of Samdani explains the situation, “It is as if one is apprehended with the proceeds of a crime, and instead of such proceeds being reimbursed to the person wronged, they are used as reparations for another crime. …The amount recovered should [have] come straight back to Pakistan, rather than being put back into Malik Riaz’s pocket.”
Settlement also included sprawling property worth £50 million, 1 Hyde Park Place, one of the most expensive localities in London. The property was first brought by Nawaz Sharif in 2007. In 2016, Riaz’s son Ali Riaz Malik brought under Ultimate Holdings. Mr Nawaz is mentioned as lender of Ultimate Holdings. The terms of the loan were “as per the contract dated March 21, 2016 between the parties”. The contract, however, is not filed with the land registry. The timing of the sale and the loan to Ultimate Holdings indicate that Mr Nawaz was eager to dissociate himself of the property. On Sept 19, 2016, the loan by Mr Nawaz was settled. Susan Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, a UK based anti-corruption charity, shines the development in positive light. “The NCA has clearly done some thinking since the Malik Riaz settlement, and the controversy it has generated in Pakistan,” she said. “It is very welcome that it has committed to greater transparency, and to ensuring that any settlement does not damage public confidence. It has also committed to providing greater detail to journalists and NGOs about upcoming hearings in open court which is a major step forward. …We cannot have another situation where it is widely perceived that money confiscated in the UK has essentially benefitted the perpetrator when it is returned to a country, or that the perpetrator is seen as having got away with it….”