Saturday Nov 27 2021

No help for Arif Naqvi from Pakistan govt but others in similar cases get backing from their govts

Arif Naqvi. — AFP
Arif Naqvi. — AFP

LONDON: Arif Naqvi, Pakistani citizen, former Abraaj boss and a friend to top Pakistani ruling and business elite across the political divide, faces extradition to the US from London and nearly 300 years in prison on charges levelled by US authorities of white-collar crime which he denies vehemently.

Naqvi appears not to have received any help from the people who were very close to him both in the hierarchy of PTI — many of whom are now part of the government — as well as in the opposition PML-N.

When Naqvi was arrested on arrival in the UK at the request of the US in April 2019, it was reported in court from telephone call logs that the last few people he had called prior to boarding the flight were Prime Minister Imran Khan and at least half a dozen PTI cabinet members. Naqvi had returned to London after holding a series of high-profile meetings in Islamabad and there were rumours that he was soon to formally become part of the PTI government to advise on national economic and investment policies.

There was hope in Pakistan that at some stage the government will enter the equation and rally to the support of Naqvi but there does not appear to have been any kind of assistance coming from the Pakistani state for one of its own who invested billions in Pakistan, got others to invest and did commendable patriotic public service, including through Aman Foundation in Karachi.

Conversely, the government of Pakistan was quick to provide a character certificate in court for another Pakistani whose extradition was sought by the US on drugs import allegations which are taken very seriously by the US government but in Naqvi's case, it appears that no diplomatic or political intervention of any kind has occurred especially in view of him denying the alleged wrongdoing and his previously untainted record in global business and philanthropy.

There are clear examples where lobbying and diplomatic effort has stopped extradition bids with extradition being an area of law which often has political undertones with many states stepping up in cases involving their own citizens but, in this case, Pakistan seems to be doing nothing even though there is so much that it can do in terms of diplomatic discussions.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was quick to endorse the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to extradite Naqvi to the US and the matter is now close to a decision at the London High Court, awaiting prior clarity and decision on a similar point of law in another case where extradition is being sought by India.

On the other hand, the UK home secretary has delayed her decision by an additional two months for unspecified reasons in the case of British businessman Mike Lynch who faces similar US charges related to the $11 billion sale of his company, Autonomy, to Hewlett Packard and whose extradition to the US had similarly been ordered by the lower court. The delay happened after senior Tory government politicians, led by former Minister David Davies, made a request to the Home Secretary.

This apparent contradiction casts a spotlight on the politics of extradition more widely and does provoke important questions around the UK/US extradition treaty which was originally devised in 2005 with counter terrorism in mind but in reality most often appears to be used in white collar cases as an instrument of the judicial activism of the US Department of Justice.

Just two weeks ago in the case of Oleg Tinkov, a Russian businessman, the US extradition request was withdrawn from UK courts in exchange for a hefty financial settlement and no prison time.

In September 2021, hours after a deal in Canada to allow Huawei's executive Meng Wanzhou to fly back to China and avoid extradition to the United States in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement, two Canadians held by China were freed and allowed to return home. President Trump had mentioned in 2020 that such a release could be on the cards if China played ball in the trade negotiations in a surprisingly overt acceptance of judicial activism.

In November 2020, three Iranian nationals jailed in Australia were released and allowed home shortly after a British academic serving a 10-year sentence for espionage in Iran was released — ironic since the Australian government has used a rhetoric of refusing deals in relation to terrorists. It appears that on this occasion, it was happy to do a deal, seemingly at the behest of an ally.

Similarly, a Mexican ex defence minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos under arrest in California on criminal charges pertaining to drug trafficking and money laundering was released in November 2020 and charges dropped with the US Department of Justice saying at the time that although it had a strong case against Cienfuegos, maintaining cooperation between US and Mexican law enforcement authorities was more important than prosecuting the General. A year later, he was cleared of all charges in Mexico and the Mexican president said that the US accusations against him were politically motivated.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had his extradition rejected by a UK magistrate after a global media and celebrity-driven campaign to have him kept in the UK. He remains in Belmarsh prison awaiting the result of the US appealing against the decision.

Separately, the accidental death of British boy Harry Dunn caused by Anne Sacoolas, wife of an alleged US intelligence officer, led to her fleeing to the US from London. Despite a public outcry, criminal proceedings against her remain pending in the UK following the US invoking diplomatic immunity and refusing to extradite her back to the UK. The US has offered some kind of alternative or virtual criminal trial process to the UK but without extradition to the UK, British prosecutors are apparently exploring how the trial can take place with her absent.

The case of Arif Naqvi intersects with these eight other highlighted cases occurring just over the last 12 months at a number of important points. He is a Pakistani national in the UK facing extradition to the US for white collar criminal charges. US jurisdiction in this case is questionable at best and the facts seem to be either the US Security and Exchanges Commission going on a fishing expedition to see what fines it can raise or based on geopolitics as a recently published book on the case implied with pressure brought to bear on co-defendants to testify against him in exchange for plea-bargains, a common practice in the US where 97% of indictments are settled out-of-court before trial. The US indictment contains provocative and unsubstantiated allegations that were not brought as additional charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that Abraaj had bribed Pakistani politicians. If this was the case, why would the government of Pakistan not claim jurisdiction of this case involving a Pakistani citizen who is alleged to have bribed a former PM?

Assange was not extradited on grounds of mental health and Naqvi had similar concerns raised at his hearing which were ignored even though prosecution and defence evidence by eminent psychiatrists agreed on the severity of danger to Naqvi's mental health and his safety in the US prison system.

What seems to be lacking in Naqvi's case is political and diplomatic pressure on his behalf by the government of Pakistan or alternatively the desire by Pakistan to hold him to account in Pakistan for the potential criminal act of bribery mentioned in the US indictment.

At present, the Pakistan government just appears to be missing in action.