Friday 15 June 2012

Bribery scandal in Pakistan grows and grows

The scandal now erupting in Pakistan around property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain and his relationship with Arsalan Iftikhar, son of the chief justice, threatens a meltdown within Pakistan's ruling elite.
Hussain himself has said that Iftikhar accepted Rs400 million ($3.6 million) from him to ensure that his controversial property deals in the 45,000-acre Bahria Town development, one of the largest in south Asia, received favourable treatment in the many court cases now being raised against him.
It seems that much of the land on which Bahria Town is built was not acquired legally and that a plethora of senior army officers, civil servants and lawyers are on Hussain's payroll. In the latest development, Aaj TV has published a list of 19 senior journalists who, it alleges, were bribed by Hussain. The list  gives details of the bribes, which include large amounts of cash, houses and cars. The publication of the list has sent shockwaves through Pakistan's media.
Hussain's rise has been phenomenal. In the 1980s he was a small-time contractor, whilst today he is regarded as the 12th richest man in Pakistan, much of it on the back of profits made through Bahria Town. Reports say that with the help of the Defence Housing Authority, Hussain grabbed RS62 billion worth of land in one deal and then grabbed land in the area of the Dadhocha Dam and resold it several times under different names. More than 110,000 civilians, 41,000 serving and retired military officers and others were cheated out of 165,000 kanals of land, it is alleged.
Hussain - whose frankness knows no bounds - says he bribed Arsalan Iftikhar by, amongst other things,  financing trips to London and Monte Carlo (including casinos) in 2010 and 2011 so that he could gain influence over judges hearing land claims against him. He has admitted that he paid for holidays for Arsalan worth $163,000 and that he can prove it because he kept the receipts for hotels, car rental and other expenses. The costs covered included a stay at the luxury Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo, a very expensive apartment on Park Lane and the use of a luxury Range Rover to ferry Iftikhar's family around London in style. Arsalan says, modestly, he repaid  $47,000 of the money. Hussain says the rest of the $3.6m was given to Mr Arsalan in cash, and that he has video footage to prove it.
Despite these claims, the Supreme Court has decided to take no action against Hussain, saying it should be dealt with by a lower court. The judges said that as Hussain had admitted he got no relief as a result of his payments, they cannot take any further action. 
We thus have the remarkable situation where the briber, Hussain, has gone to court because he says he paid money over to Arsalan to influence certain decisions, but is complaining because the money was taken, but the courts did not back him.
Since these initial allegations, Hussain himself has suggested that Pakistan's chief justice himself is involved in the case. Speaking of the Supreme Court yesterday he said: “This court is being controlled by the don Dr Arsalan and the entire court is under his influence,”  adding “Arsalan has influence on his father and other judges. He is the don of all the judiciary”.
When told that his statements would offend the judges of the Supreme Court and he could be held in contempt, Hussain said he had documentary evidence that instructions were sent to give pre-decided judgments. “I know how instructions are sent. I have documentary evidence how instructions are sent. I will soon present this.”
As if this scandal was not enough, Rehman Malik has had his membership of the Senate suspended on the grounds that he has dual British-Pakistani nationality. This means he is no longer interior minister, but has had to revert to his old title of advisor to the prime minister on interior matters. Several other members of provincial assemblies have also had their membership suspended over dual nationality issues. Also suspended from Parliament is Farahnaz Ispahani, media advisor to the president, on the grounds of his joint US-Pakistani nationality.
Where all this will lead is anyone's guess. One thing is sure: more dramatic revelations of bribery and corruption within Pakistan's elite will be made public in the next few days.

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