Tuesday, May 17, 2022

NCA gives clean chit to Farhan Junejo in £8 million money-laundering case assisted by ARU

UK investigators find no evidence that Junejo made criminal assets after laundering money from Pakistan to UK

(L to R) Ex-special assistant to the prime minister on accountability Shahzad Akbar, British Pakistani businessman Farhan Junejo, and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry. — Photo by author/PID/File
(L to R) Ex-special assistant to the prime minister on accountability Shahzad Akbar, British Pakistani businessman Farhan Junejo, and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry. — Photo by author/PID/File

LONDON: Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has closed £8 million money-laundering investigations into British-Pakistani businessman Farhan Junejo whose arrest in London on September 17, 2018, by the UK’s super anti-corruption agency was hailed as a great success by Shehzad Akbar, the then Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) head and former Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary.

Akbar was appointed the head of ARU by former prime minister Imran Khan to bring back the alleged looted billions from abroad.

Nearly four years later and after investigating the evidence provided by the ARU, the NCA has confirmed it has closed the money-laundering investigation into Junjeo and his wife and found no evidence of money-laundering and corruption by Junjeo and his lawyer wife who were both arrested from their Surrey home.

This means the NCA has cleared Junejo and his wife of all allegations of corruption and the subsequent laundering of the proceeds of that criminality into the UK from Pakistan. The NCA investigated Junejo and his wife under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) for the recovery of criminal assets – over allegations that Junejo and his wife had committed offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 by laundering to the UK the proceeds of corruption in Pakistan.

The NCA’s decision is a big setback for the ARU because both Akbar and Chaudhary had publicly taken credit for Junejo’s arrest and issued a charge sheet of corruption against Junejo whose investigation in London was not only made a subject of a huge publicity stunt but also Junejo and his family had to brace with negative media coverage across the globe.

 The news of Junejo’s clearance comes seven months after the NCA dropped money laundering and corruption cases against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Suleman Sharif. Both these cases were run by the NCA on ARU’s request – both resulting in no further action.

Immediately after Junejo’s arrest, Akbar and Chaudhary gave interviews to private television channels, declaring Junejo as a corrupt man who had looted money from Pakistan and laundered it to the UK.

Interestingly, the English lawyers of Junejo used interviews of Akbar and Chaudhary to defend Junjeo before the NCA – and succeeded in pointing out that both Akbar and Chaudhary had run media trial of Junejo and made completely false allegations which had no relation to facts.

Akbar told a private TV channel immediately after Junejo’s arrest: “This was the fruitful result of our inter agencies cooperation that it was a result of close working between our assets recovery unit and the NCA and work was being done on it for the last seven days or so.”

Akbar had added: “Now this joint operation of Pakistani and British agencies took place, the planning and surveillance for the operation took place over the weakened. Our team fulfilled all legal requirements of the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service and vetted the documentation, which was needed by the British authorities. British institutions move when the case is ripe. So, this was the prime example of joint working and partnership, the focal person of the NCA is the head of the agency and I am myself the focal person from our side, for the inter-agency cooperation. This was the result of that cooperation during which two persons were arrested there.

Akbar had further alleged that Junjeo “couldn't give explanation about the assets recovered from them, from Surrey”; “Junjeo was a government servant and escaped from here”; “he has to face criminal cases in the UK; “laundered money from Pakistan”; “we have to bring back this person as well as the looted money”; Junejo’s “wealth must get back to Pakistan as it was gotten from the exchequer of Pakistan”; “we justified that this money was of Tax payer and poor people of Pakistan”; “basically this was corrupt money, proceeds of corruption, kickbacks, received it in cash and through Hundí Hawala sent to Dubai where the common and popular method is that you send money to Dubai and then send to European jurisdictions in such a way that it looks like the origin is not in Pakistan”; “we gave fall trail to the British government and they verified it where it's proven through the banking channels and they acted only after it was proven”; "they were given a lawyer and they are being charged”: and we “provided a money trail of RS 250 million” to NCA about Junejo.

Akbar also tweeted on the same day: “Another success for PM @ImranKhanPTI initiative & the Asset Recovery Unit, on our request NCA in the UK arrested and seized property worth £8 million and other assets in London. The name cannot be released at this moment as per UK request. Corrupt will have to answer now.”

Speaking to a private channel, Chaudhary branded Farahan Junejo as a criminal. Chaudhary had alleged that Junjeo had acted as the ''frontman" of the Pakistan People's Party; “millions of British pounds have been recovered from his account;” and that Mr Junejo was "currently arrested".

Papers seen by this reporter show that Junejo’s lawyers at Peters and Peters LLP produced full interview transcripts of Chaudhary and Akbar and told the anti-corruption agency that both Pakistani ministers had defamed Junejo by levelling false allegations against him for political gains.

Peters and Peters wrote in one communication: “There is a very real basis to believe that the investigation into Junejo is being utilised for political purposes, which must in tum cast doubt on the integrity of any assistance or evidence you receive from the Pakistani authorities, is evident from both the extensive media coverage devoted to reporting news of Mr Junejo and his wife's arrest and evidence that improper pressure has been applied to witnesses to provide testimony adverse to Junejo."

Junejo’s lawyers wrote: “Mr Akbar's and Mr Chaudhry's public comments are also in marked contrast with the NCA's own press release dated 17 September 2018, which took care to ensure that the allegations were not presented as fact. It also made clear that the investigation was ongoing and did not contain any inflammatory wording relating to the money being "laundered", "looted" or "corrupt". 

The Pakistani government's interest in pushing forward an agenda in support of the collaboration between the British and Pakistani authorities plainly does not justify the broadcast of inaccurate and defamatory allegations against our client, and we urge the NCA to adopt a cautious approach when sharing intelligence with its Pakistani counterparts, and in particular in respect of any material received from Pakistan.”

It was also alleged by Pakistani authorities that Junejo was a close aide to late PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim and was named in the Trade Development corruption scandal in addition to causing a loss of Rs1.5 billion to the national exchequer.

During its four years-long investigations, the ARU provided several bundles to the NCA and pushed to get a favourable verdict but the NCA investigation found that Junejo had not committed any wrongdoing as alleged by the ARU.

The FIA had alleged that Junejo had laundered between 180-250 million Rupees from Pakistan but the charge sheet prepared by the ARU evidence failed to convince the UK authorities how the monies transferred into almost a dozen accounts were proceeds of crimes or corruption.

Junejo’s lawyer said in a statement: “We are pleased that our client has been cleared. Allegations of corruption and money laundering have turned out to be false. Pakistani government ministers lied about Junejo for political gains but the fair UK investigation provided allegations against Junejo were baseless.”

Junejo comes from a reputable family in Pakistan. His father Nabi Sher Junejo was a judge at a special anti-terrorism court in Karachi. In June 1991, Nabi Sher Junejo was assassinated by unknown gunmen as he left his home for the court. His killers were never caught.

Junejo is known to have business assets worth millions of Pounds in the real estate sector. He is a respected figure in the business community, enjoyed a good reputation and never faced any investigation before his arrest at the ARU’s request.