“People will continue to commit atrocities as long as they believe in absurdities”―Voltaire
As reported on 19 December 2020, Faheem Ahmed, a school teacher and resident of Thatta died of cardiac arrest soon after he received a notice from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that had detected transactions of millions of rupees in an account in his name, in Dadu. Sheeraz, a security guard and brother of the deceased rejected the allegations saying, “We were dragged in the case unnecessarily. We did not know anything about the opening of the account,” implying thereby that this was a case of benami (name-lender) accounts that are used to transfer illegally accumulated wealth. So much for all the fanfare that banks undertake when opening personal accounts!
The reason behind taking up this particular story is that it reflects the situation of many innocent people who are being indicted in financial crimes committed by powerful men coming from well-reputed backgrounds and who, after plundering the wealth of this country seek sitting ducks to launder and legalize their illicit booty. To them, it hardly matters what sort of consequences emanate from their actions. All that interests them is the money they can generate and pile up in their vaults to be used for their nefarious purposes. These essentially constitute financing different mafias, creating private illegal armies, influencing crucial government decisions courtesy self-serving politicians, exploiting the poor and evading taxes by using their money power to overwhelm regulatory and revenue authorities,
The methodology used by these white collar criminals involves one, loads of illegally acquired cash, a corrupt highly placed official of any bank who is willing to assist in laundering this money and of course some unsuspecting scapegoats in the form of deposit account holders who have absolutely no idea about how they are unjustly made accomplices in a financial crime. It may be remembered that opening a bank account has become quite irritating for the details and documentation required in addition to the ‘know-your-client’ particulars that have to be provided. Even then, it now takes approximately three to four weeks before the account is operational. To make matters worse, an account is rendered dormant if not used for a few months. With this data and these harsh rules in place, it is shocking how easily the unscrupulous elements play with the accounts of unwary clients.
In a research paper “Role of banks in money laundering through fake bank accounts and writing off loan in Pakistan: An analytical study”, the authors, Rao Imran Habib et al have unveiled serious and unethical conduct of banks. They conclude: “the role of bank in maintaining the fake/idle accounts and the loan waiver policy and its malafide usage in the banking sector resulted in financial frauds and money laundering in Pakistan.” If this is the state of affairs, then many questions can be raised on the entire banking sector including its chief regulator, the State Bank of Pakistan. The research further concludes that the act of waiving off loans allegedly has provided a channel to misuse public earned money, resulting in gross loss to the public exchequer—calling to attention another grave aspect of banking. Small loans are recovered with ferocious intensity while those amounting to billions, of course taken by the rich and powerful, are written off without a hitch. Connivance of the corrupt has tattered apart the economics of Pakistan because of which, the nation in general and the poor in particular are suffering immensely.
Already, feudalism and peeri/faqiree [submission before landlords and so-called spiritual figures, not to be confused with Sufism] have messed up lives of millions. The notorious and historic caste system with its judgement of people on the basis of birth and occupation is still an integral part of our society. People born in the so-called ‘upper class’ consider others as lowly who are fit only to serve them. Consequently, the wretched are deprived of education, equal opportunities to progress and the system of governance is evolved in a way to keep the ‘lowly’ at bay to preserve the vital interests of the elite and allow its members to rule over the already oppressed, both politically and morally. The ‘inferior’ class [kamis in local slang], with its own set of absurd thinking and superstitious nature finds refuge in prostrating before the powerful, whether they are owners of vast tracts of agricultural land, business empires or whether they claim being direct descendants of our Holy Prophet (PBUH) that gives them the inherent right to enslave ummati into mureedi (servitude).
If one probes a bit deeper, one realizes that barring a handful of the human race in almost every nook and cranny of the world, the rest are quite disposable. From the clutches of colonization on an international level to the regional feet-touching slavery, there are billions who can be crushed, insulted, humiliated, victimized, maltreated and worse, sacrificed for the benefit of their superior masters and demi-gods of this earth. Battles in the past or the on-going wars/proxy wars plus the myriads of localized disputes, tussles and animosities have taken the toll of innocent bystanders whereas the actual belligerent parties, the superior giants, mostly remain unhurt.
While the poor of this country stay deprived of essential necessities of life, while they struggle day in and day out to feed their starving, under-nourished children, while they are forced to lead miserable lives in terms of health, hygiene and clean drinking water, while their offspring are condemned to stay illiterate and ungroom, the dominant supreme beings are engaged in laundering ill-gotten money worth billions of rupees; and the tragedy is that they are doing all this at the expense of these ‘scums’ of the earth who are oblivious to the usage of their meager accounts for such cleansing as long as this vile procedure remains underground. However, once they are exposed they unleash a wave of cataclysmic episodes, accentuated by the atrocious behavior of authorities with the one who is made cannon fodder, like the school teacher who died of cardiac arrest on receiving a notice from NAB.
Amazingly, reaction of the authorities with respect to the rich and mighty culprits is quite mellow compared to that with the poor and off-guard victims. Apparently, law enforcement agencies suffer from a dearth of training and experience to distinguish between true perpetrators and the sacrificial goats. They impart extremely questionable treatment to easy victims which is why people dread them and fear their venom. This is a very sad state of affairs! No one likes to be implicated in a crime, especially those who are genuinely innocent. In financial transgressions billions of rupees are involved and if the blameless are caught in the crossfire, it is for the authorities to discern whether or not they are capable of committing such misdeeds before resorting to severe action against them. For this, one need not be Socrates to see the difference in status, position and residence of the person on whom a notice is served.
Authorities have the power to investigate, follow leads and arrive at logical conclusions without jeopardizing the lives of innocent people. If they act in time, there is no reason why they cannot get hold of most of the illicit money but to catch hold of the powerful requires strong moral muscles, which they perhaps lack. Knowing that crimes of this nature are committed in connivance with various officials, then their failure in nabbing them cannot be condoned. The truth is that powerless continue to get exploited by scoundrels who rate their lives more precious than the underdogs falling prey to their wickedness.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)