Friday Nov 19, 2021
LONDON: Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has dropped a high profile criminal fraud investigation into the well-known British Pakistani businessman, Nisar Ahmed Afzal after investigating an alleged mortgage fraud worth £50 million.
Officials at the SFO have confirmed that criminal proceedings against Afzal from Birmingham have been closed, his seized assets have been returned and he is no longer subject to an arrest warrant and the Restraint Orders (RO).
The Birmingham mortgage fraud case became one of the biggest cases of its nature in UK history. Nisar Afzal fled to Pakistan in 2006 at the start of the investigations that lasted more than 15 years in both the UK and Pakistan. Afzal maintained he was wrongly framed in the case in a high profile conspiracy and that he would not get justice in the given circumstances.
The SFO has confirmed that the Restraint Orders, first secured on 24 July 2006, against Afzal have been discharged and “there are no proceedings by the SFO” against him anymore and the arrest warrant, secured at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court against him on 29 October 2010, has been withdrawn by Director of the SFO under the Criminal Justice Act 1987.
The Southwark Crown Court ordered the release of Restraining Orders and discharging of the arrest warrant after the Serious Fraud Office made an application to the court before Judge Grieve QC explaining that it would not pursue the criminal case against Nisar Afzal anymore and planned to close the file. The court Order, available with this reporter, reads: “It is ordered that the Restraint Order granted by his Honour Judge Elwen on 24 July 2006 as varied shall be discharged.”
The Birmingham Mortgage Fraud case is seen as one of the biggest and most complex cases investigated by the SFO with help from National Crime Agency (NCA) and cooperation from Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB). In May 2019, a senior investigator of the NCA visited NAB’s Rawalpindi office to obtain evidence that could corroborate “the banking transaction data already obtained in the UK”, according to a letter written by NCA to NAB.
In the same letter, the NCA told a senior NAB official said “following our cooperation…the SFO was able to successfully confiscate a £1.53 million from the Afzal family in the High Court of London”.
The £50m Birmingham mortgage fraud, according to SFO, took place between 2004 and 2006 and offences included two counts of conspiracy to obtain money transfers by deception and four counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception.
Exactly ten years ago, the SFO had told this reporter it believed that Afzal had taken with him at least £26 million. “We do want Nisar Ahmad Afzal back in the UK to stand trial and we have a warrant for his arrest. If he returns to the UK he will be charged.” A lawyer for Afzal had told The News that Nisar was arrested in Pakistan on instructions of a senior Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader who was in the government in 2011.
This case has seen twists and turns like few other cases. Not only that the investigation has remained alive for over 15 years but there has been a high profile kidnapping of Nasir Afzal in Pakistan; the guilty plea of his younger brother under “duress”; the Serious Fraud Office requesting to adjourn the case and accepting in an open court they have no chance of success if Nisar Afzal’s defence is true; most of the accused being acquitted or hung juries; UK-Pakistan wide ranging cooperation and in the end the SFO deciding to drop the case against Nisar Afzal after failing to find enough evidence to establish criminality.
Nisar Afzal’s brother Saghir Afzal and banking expert Ian McGarry were charged along with six solicitors who conducted the property transactions on their behalf but at the trial three were acquitted of the charges against them and the jury was unable to reach a verdict in respect of the other three. The SFO investigators accepted in the court in September 2018 during a hearing that Nisar Afzal had consistently pleaded his innocence and abuse of power and that the SFO will close the file if it turns out that Afzal’s position was right that he was not involved in the criminal conspiracy.
Nisar Afzal was never charged for the allegations for which his brother was convicted but the SFO wanted Nisar Afzal to return to the UK to face trial. However, Nisar Afzal stressed that he would return to the UK if the SFO confirmed in writing that it had completed its investigations in the UK and Pakistan, covering every aspect of the case with full verifications. He asked the SFO to investigate through the British High Commission and Pakistan High Commission as this would potentially help his defence but the SFO didn’t do that. However, the SFO took help from Pakistan authorities when needed.
Throughout the 15 years, Nisar Afzal disputed the criminal case against him and stressed that he was a victim of abuse of power; didn’t commit any fraud or criminal act. He said that the SFO had failed to properly investigate an individual called Abdul Ajram who, he said, was the one involved.
Meanwhile, Nisar Afzal’s assets remained frozen through a confiscation order by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Nisar Afzal’s lawyers filed substantial evidence on his behalf to counter the allegations being made by the SFO. After a long stretch of litigation, the SFO has now informed the court that it has closed the cases and investigations against Nisar Afzal due to lack of evidence, and further requested to the court that his assets, therefore, should be returned to him. It’s understood that Nisar Afzal plans to launch a series of legal actions.
Originally published in The News