How Pakistani Generals Made ‘Mr Clean’ Using Disgraced Billionaire’s Funds
Jhe door was opened by an English butler called Terry, dressed in perfectly creased pinstriped trousers and a dark suit – a gesture of magnificent professional disdain for the sweltering Arabian sun. The servant’s costume hasn’t changed to fit the setting: the Emirates Hill mansion in Dubai, around a sprawling courtyard with a fountain at its center; the opulent apartment in sumptuous South Kensington in London; the five-bedroom, 154-foot yacht Raastaits art-deco interiors carved in teak.
Sitting in a living room strewn with artwork from the Middle East and South Asia, Imran Khan’s new wife sullenly awaited the ladies-only gathering that awaited her. “I moaned about spending my afternoon with more silicone dolls,” Reham Khan recalled.
“Baby, they are very important,” protested the future Prime Minister of Pakistan. “Arif Naqvi financed 66% of my campaign himself in 2013.”
Struggle extradition to the United States, where he faces a 291-year sentence for financial fraud, Naqvi finds himself at the center of a storm over his role in funding the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Explosive allegations surfaced that Naqvi made the payments on the instructions of the former Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
Legal deposits by United States Attorneys allege that Naqvi falsified documents to conceal losses and embezzled at least $400 million from investors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, intended to fund health care for the poor in developing countries.
Some of that money, according to new evidence, was used in a military-led plot to overthrow Pakistan’s political order.
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The Generals and Imran
The story goes back to the summer of 2008, when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s government moved to impose civilian control on the ISI. This decision, aimed at deepening the détente with India and pushing the ISI to act against anti-American jihadists, backfired. Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel said that the ISI undermined the attempt at civil peace by staging 11/26. After the US raid that led to the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, civil-military relations deteriorated further.
The generals needed a trustworthy political partner. With a platform of seeking talks with Taliban jihadists, greater Islamization and a hawkish stance on Kashmir, Imran had the right ideological credentials.
Faced with growing questions, Imran publicly denied reports of ISI funding in 2012. The evidence was mounting, however. the military, Frédéric Grare observedlaunched a bloodless coup to help him in December 2012, facilitating mass protests against the government.
Imran’s bid for the 2013 elections failed, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s new government also found itself mired in a dispute with the military. Further protests led by Imran again paralyzed the government in 2014. The new ISI leader, Lt. Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam, Nawaz Sharif claimed, threatened to mount a shot unless the Prime Minister resigns to make way for Imran,
Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar was appointed head of the ISI in 2014, in an attempt to ease tensions between the government and the military. Thanks to the generals, however, they took care of their unfinished business.
Also Read: Shehbaz Sharif’s Biggest Challenge Will Be To Undo Imran Khan’s Explosive Pakistan Policy
The empire behind Imran
Earlier this year, Naqvi had filed an affidavit to the Election Commission of Pakistan, admitting he raised $2.1 million for Imran in 2013, just as generals were plotting his ascension. Election laws in Pakistan prohibit foreign donations to political parties, but Naqvi claimed he collected the money from Pakistani nationals. Wootton Cricket, the Cayman Islands-registered company through which the money was disbursed, served only as “a convenient and traceable fund aggregator”.
Last week, however, the journalist and author Simon Clark revealed that bank statements showed that $1.3 million paid to Imran’s party in March 2013 came from Naqvi’s Abraaj Investment Management. Abraaj later spent the donation on the holding company through which he controlled power supply company Karachi Electric.
According to documents, another $2 million came to Wootton from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) minister, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan.
Imran Khan has admitted to having received funds of Naqvi, but says these were routine political donations. There has been no explanation as to why the businessman and the sheikh made these investments in his political fortune.
Last year, a survey conducted by Margot Gibbs and Malia Pulitzer unveiled several key members of Imran’s inner circle – including ministers Shaukat Tareen, Chaudhry Moonis Elahi and Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar – held millions of dollars in trusts and offshore companies. Tariq Shafi, one of the main PTI donors, was found to have $215 million in offshore accounts.
For his part, General Pasha was appointed adviser to the United Arab Emirates after his retirement in 2012. From 2016 he started working as a consultant for WAK Group. The company, owned by politician-tycoon Waqar Ahmad Khan, reportedly profited from allocated gas quotas without open tender. WAK was also tried by British courts for having in default on loans to develop a 1.5 acre London property into a 21-bedroom mansion, basement, swimming pool, cinema, sauna and orangery.
Also Read: Why Imran Khan Blamed the US for His Downfall and Not the Pakistani Army
The electric man
Educated at Karachi Grammar School and the London School of Economics, Naqvi had used his upbringing to escape a toxic environment where success depended on connections and corruption. In 1982 he married Fayeeza Chundrigar, a descendant of Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar, the tycoon who briefly served as Prime Minister of Pakistan for 55 days in 1957. After a successful career in several major banks, he moved to the United Arab Emirates and created Abraaj. At its peak, Abraaj held assets of $13.6 billion across six continents.
The Naqvis counted among their friends Hilary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Bill Gates. They donated to top universities and prestigious charities. Then he bet big on building a swamp called Karachi Electric.
Since the 1950s, Karachi’s power supply system has slowly disintegrated. While consumers shunned paying their bills, governments underinvested in infrastructure. In 2005, the government offered Karachi Electric to Abraaj for a $1 token. Finally, a Saudi-Kuwaiti consortium acquired 71% of the shares of Karachi Electric.
The consortium soon learned that it had made a mistake. In 2008, following a Karachi-wide blackout caused by industrial action, Naqvi was again asked to take over. This time he accepted. Friends in Washington helped, pushing through a $7.5 billion aid package this would have contributed to the reform of the electricity sector in Pakistan.
Farrukh Abbas, related through his wife to then President Zardari, was hired to lead Abraaj in Pakistan. The president’s privatization of Karachi Electric, however, was met with opposition within his own party. In 2011, Abraaj’s decision to lay off 4,300 workers led to violence, allegedly instigated by powerful ruling party politicians.
Probably, the unfortunate experience with Zardari had something to do with Naqvi’s support for Imran.
Faced with a mountain of unpaid bills from government customers and a growing pile of debt to its own energy suppliers, Karachi Electric has struggled. The solution emerged from President Xi Jinping. Shanghai Electric, one of China’s biggest power companies, stepped in with a $1.7 billion bid to take Karachi Electric out of Naqvi’s hands.
In the summer of 2016, Simon Clark and Will Louch wrote in an authoritative book on Abraaj’s story, Naqvi struck a $20 million deal with a middleman, to gain support from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The prime minister, however, was forced out of office by a Supreme Court ruling in 2017, which found him guilty of corruption.
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The end of the dream
Imran Khan finally came to power in 2018, installed in office, researcher C. Christine Fair recorded, facilitated by the army. Facing financial pressures due to investments gone wrong, Naqvi needed the sale of Karachi Electric to materialize. Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Bashir Memon stood in the way. Abraaj owed 87 billion Pakistani rupees to the Pakistani state gas company. In response to requests for payment, Memon said laterKarachi Electric is reportedly threatening to cut off the city’s power and get a reprieve.
Imran ordered Memon to close the case. The FIA chief refused, leading to his unceremonious transfer. Negotiations to sell Karachi Electric stand stillamong disputes over how much it is owed by the Pakistani government, the extent of its debts and future electricity pricing.
To help Naqvi, Imran also backed plans to create a sovereign wealth trust, Sarmaya-e-Pakistan, which would control the country’s public sector assets. Abraaj hoped for a large share in the operations of the trust, in which former employees were to have key roles.
The forensic examination of Abraaj’s affairs derailed Imran’s efforts to bail out Naqvi. Naqvi was held at Heathrow Airport in early 2019. Like fugitive diamond dealer Nirav Modi, Naqvi is fighting extradition on mental health reasons. The two cases will likely be decided together.
Even though Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party alliance used the Naqvi revelations to attack Imran, no criminal investigation was ordered. The Election Commission of Pakistan estimated that Imran Khan received prohibited funds, but his investigation does not touch on the sources and their motivations. The grip of cronyism on Pakistani politics is too deep – and the generals involved too powerful – for the truth to be told.
The author is National Security Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @praveenswami. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)