The law, the poor & the rich
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, May 06, 2015
Ayaan’s case is a classic example of how collusion of legal experts on both sides of the fence can blatantly obfuscate crime and delay trials. Taking advantage of the dated criminal procedure code (CrPC), lawyers camouflage their delaying tactics with walls of objections, reservations and at times frivolous arguments.
It took the Customs Intelligence and Investigation several weeks to prepare a charge sheet, despite the fact that she was caught with $500,000 in her possession while she was on her way out of the country. The charge sheet is based on her statement which states that she “had purchased files of plots worth Rs5 million from a housing society and sold it for Rs50 million and that the housing society had paid her Rs50 million in the shape of over $0.5 million”. The figures mentioned are the same, i.e., Rs50 million, and the dollar-rupee parity, or the difference of sale-purchase value didn’t affect it at all. The charge-sheet doesn’t mention whether people named by Ayaan, i.e., the housing society manager and the currency dealer, were interrogated.
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) regulations allow a passenger to carry not more than $10,000, or the equivalent of notes of another currency, out of the country. The same regulations are noted in most other countries, which make the possession of over $10,000 an offence. That is why people are asking whether Pakistan’s Anti-Money Laundering Ordinance 2007 and Anti-Money Laundering Regulations 2008 cover the undeclared money that Ayaan was carrying? Strangely, this case most probably represents only the tip of the iceberg; a former SBP governor, Anwar Yasin, had, for instance, told a parliamentary committee in 2013 that some $25 million were being siphoned out of the country every day in “briefcases through airports”.
One of my acquaintances had an encounter with a nephew of a sitting prime minister on board a London-bound PIA flight in 2011. Protocol officers escorted the young man carrying a large briefcase into the business class, she recalled. The young man would carry the briefcase with him every time he visited the toilet. Later he revealed that the briefcase contained dollars. At Heathrow, the Pakistan High Commission’s protocol officials reportedly welcomed the young man. These were the days when the market was abuzz with the news of the flight of dollars through non-banking channels, including hand-carried consignments.
The delays in submitting the interim challan(charge sheet) with several lacunas also reinforced the perception that the poor are the most vulnerable to the CrPC, while the affluent elite can get away even with murder. This case exemplifies two pressing issues; one, the tardy CrPC that lawyers continue to exploit before judges who themselves were once lawyers. The second issue is the laundering of undeclared money, mostly through VIP/protocol channels at airports. Why can’t an obvious offence, such as the one that Ayaan is alleged to have committed, be taken to its logical conclusion instantly? Who subverts the course of law in such cases? The bar, the bench, or the ruling elite?
We are told that the FIA hasn’t been able to retrieve the data deleted from the two mobile phones that Ayaan was carrying. Can’t the cell phone companies be asked for this data? This is quite bizarre in what clearly is a money-laundering case. Pakistan will only invite more dirt from abroad if this case cannot be concluded on the basis of the available evidence.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies