Uzair Ai describes a massive white crime Kleptocrats exposed again
Until a few years before the Western Kleptocrats exposed again banking systems was venerated and was widely reported to be above board in financial dealing. It was held that they follow and adhere to strictest possible vigilance standards and it was considered extremely safe to enter into any transaction with them. These banks were also reported to be excessively discreet and protective of their details of their large clientele. In this context no banking could match the Swiss banks that were rated to be among the world’s most closely guarded secrets, protecting the identities of some of the planet’s richest people and clues into how they accumulated their fortunes. The traditions of fool-proof banking of Swiss banks were honed over a long period of time and they functioned smoothly and with tremendous success.
All was going well till a spate of leaks started to appear seriously denting the financial propriety of western banking institutions and the latest in this respect is an extraordinary leak of data from Credit Suisse, one of the world’s most iconic banks that has brought to fore how the bank held hundreds of millions of dollars for heads of state, intelligence officials, sanctioned businessmen and human rights abusers among many others. The current leaks have revealed the hidden wealth of more than 18,000 foreign clients of the banking giant, allegedly including corrupt autocrats, suspected war criminals and human traffickers. A self-described whistle-blower leaked data mentions accounts collectively holding more than $100 billion out of which it is pointed out which $8 billion in assets belonged to individuals with highly dubious backgrounds. The data spans almost eight decades up until 2010. The 166-year-old Swiss firm has said it strongly rejects the allegations and insinuations about its purported business practices.
The leaks throws light on the people holding million of dollars worth of money in account rosters of Credit Suisse including the beleaguered King Abdullah of Jordan whose country has been the recipient of foreign financial assistance practically since its inception. Another country with a similar financial history is Egypt whose discredited long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was known for his corrupt practices who stashed his ill-gotten wealth in the accounts of his two sons who, during his rule, were widely assumed to be his heirs. Another unfortunate fact coming to light is in this respect of a former Pakistani intelligence head who funneled billions of dollars from the United States and other countries given to support Afghan fighters against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s. The leaked bank information included many accounts linked to government officials across the Middle East and beyond. The data raises questions about how public officials and their relatives accumulated vast fortunes in a region rife with corruption.
The problematic aspect of the whole affair is that Credit Suisse gladly served the filthy rich amongst whom many were account holders with highly dubious and contentious credentials revealing that the bank was only interested in procuring money without paying heed to the propriety angle thereby providing people of shady background a convenient hub to secure their ill-gotten wealth. Though it is mentioned that Swiss banks have long faced legal prohibitions on taking money linked to criminal activity but it now is obvious that such laws were not enforced pointing out to a tacit willingness on part of the relevant authorities to quietly let money come into the country’s banking system. This may be due to the fact that for considerably long period the country excelled in managing money that became the mainstay of the high standards of living.
The new disclosures are likely to intensify legal and political scrutiny of the Swiss banking industry and, in particular, Credit Suisse. The bank is already reeling from the abrupt ousters of its two top executives. Switzerland with its ironclad bank-secrecy laws is no more the safe haven for people looking, a bitter truth its two banking giants, Credit Suisse and UBS, learnt to their detriment. The most worrying aspect of the whole episode is that Credit Suisse continued to do business with customers even after bank officials flagged suspicious activity involving their finances.
It was mentioned that former head of Pakistani ISI General Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan was deeply involved in transferring money to the accounts of his three sons who became extraordinarily rich and actively participated in high level political activities. General Rahman was not only one of the closest associates of former Pakistani dictator General Ziaul Haq but also was related to him. He was credited with establishing the Mujahideen network to counter Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan though these claims are largely one-sided probably inflated by hagiographic account of his role written by a controversial journalist in Pakistan who was allegedly paid for this work. It was mentioned that an account was opened in the name of three of General Akhtar’s sons in 1985 that slowly grew to $3.7 million.
More specifically the report claimed that the Saudi Arabian and US funding for Afghan Mujahideen would go to the CIA’s Swiss bank account and the end recipient in the process was Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence group (ISI) at the time led by General Akhtar Abdur Rahman and that by the mid-1980s, he was adept at getting CIA cash into the hands of Afghan jihadists and it was around this time that Credit Suisse accounts were opened in the names of his three sons. By 2003, this account was worth at least five million Swiss francs ($3.7 million at the time). A second account, opened in January 1986 in Akbar’s name alone, was worth more than 9 million Swiss francs by November 2010 or $9.2 million at the time.
The list also includes the name of Lt Gen Zahid Ali Akbar who remained Chairman WAPDA and Chairman PCB. A reference against him was filed by NAB in an accountability court in July 2006 for owning assets worth Rs.268 million which were not in accordance with his legal sources of income. He fled the country and the court declared him as proclaimed offender in 2007 however, NAB got him detained in Bosnia through Interpol. Since Zahid Ali Akbar was a British national, the British embassy in Bosnia provided him legal help to wriggle him out of his trouble and he was later extradited to United Kingdom. Ultimately, he entered into a plea bargain of Rs.199 million.
The story is evolving and at this stage it is also reported that many Pakistanis have also been found in the data and the number of them comes to around 1,400 individuals domiciled in Pakistan that are linked with around 600 accounts opened in Credit Suisse. The data also contained information of the accounts which have been closed now but remained operational in the past. The accounts are of diverse nature and include individuals who are either in the past or presently under investigation of the National Accountability Bureau. There are also cases where the accused opened accounts when inquiry against them was under progress and NAB would never get wind of the matter.
Several politically exposed persons opened their accounts at a time when they were public office holders and they did not mention it in their assets declaration submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan. One such individual received a substantial amount of funds in Credit Suisse at the prime of his political career. One of the richest accounts held at the bank by a Pakistani was also owned by a politically exposed person. The data also contained details about some cases presently under probe in Pakistan where the investigators were fed wrong information about the assets under scrutiny. While many tend to believe that the fake accounts phenomenon is limited to Pakistani banks, it has emerged that Pakistanis have also used Credit Suisse for opening accounts in the names of their proxies in absence of proper due diligence of the bank.
It is reported that the average maximum balance in accounts held by Pakistanis was 4.42 million Swiss francs or Rs.841 million compared with the overall average of the leaked data which stood at 7.5 million Swiss francs or Rs.1.42 billion. Almost two hundred clients found in the data are worth more than 100 million Swiss francs or Rs.19 billion and more than a dozen had accounts valued in the billions. While some accounts in the data dated back to the 1940s, more than two-thirds were opened from 2000 onward and many of them were still open well into the last decade. TW
Uzair Ali is in the finance sector