Gen. Ziaul Haq’s spy chief among ‘hundreds’ of Pakistanis allegedly identified in ‘Suisse secrets’ expose of secret Swiss accounts
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a consortium of investigative centers, media and journalists, on Sunday unveiled the ‘Suisse Secrets,’ a trove of secret bank accounts provided to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by a whistleblower who has described protection of “financial privacy” as an excuse to protect tax evasion.
According to the OCCRP, which examined the data, the whistleblower provided records on more than 18,000 Credit Suisse accounts, noting it had found “dozens of dubious characters” in the data, including an “an Algerian general accused of torture, the children of a brutal Azerbaijani strongman, and even a Serbian drug lord known as Misha Banana.”
The OCCRP includes the participation of several global publications and media outlets, including daily The News from Pakistan. The publication was represented by journalist Umar Cheema, who said that around 1,400 Pakistani citizens had been linked to approximately 600 Credit Suisse accounts, including those that had been closed but had been operational in the past. Noting that The News would provide details of some prominent account holders in the coming days, he added that the accounts of Pakistanis were quite “diverse.” Among the individuals identified are those who have been, or are currently, under investigation by the National Accountability Bureau. “Additionally, there are instances where the accused opened accounts while the investigation was ongoing and NAB was unaware of the transaction,” he wrote.
“Numerous politically exposed individuals opened their accounts while holding public office and failed to disclose this fact in their asset declarations submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan. One such individual received a substantial sum of money from Credit Suisse, at the height of his political career,” he said, adding that one of the wealthiest accounts held by a Pakistani was also owned by a politically exposed individual. “It has emerged that Pakistanis have also used Credit Suisse to open accounts in their proxies’ names in the absence of the bank conducting proper due diligence,” he said.
According to Cheema, the average maximum balance in Pakistani accounts was 4.42 million Swiss francs (Rs. 841 million), with almost 200 clients valued at over 100 million Swiss francs (Rs. 19 billion), and “more than a dozen” had accounts worth billions.
Former military officials
Among the Pakistanis that have already been identified is the late Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan, who served as spy chief during the rule of military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq. According to a report published in The New York Times, Gen. Khan “helped funnel billions of dollars in cash and other aid from the U.S. and other countries to the mujahideen in Afghanistan to support their fight against the Soviet Union” as head of the Pakistani intelligence agency.
It said that an account was opened in the name of three of General Akhtar’s sons in 1985, adding that the general had never faced charges of stealing aid money. Years later, the paper said, “the account would grow to hold $3.7 million, the leaked records show.”
An accompanying OCCRP report alleged that Saudi Arabian and U.S. funding for mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan would go to the CIA’s Swiss bank account before being passed onto the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency that was led by Akhtar. The report claims that “by the mid-1980s, Akhtar was adept at getting CIA cash into the hands of Afghan jihadists. It was around this time that Credit Suisse accounts were opened in the names of his three sons.”
It said that the available data showed that by 2003, this account was worth at least five million Swiss francs, while a second account—opened in January 1986 in Akbar’s name alone—was worth more than 9 million Swiss francs by November 2010. It said that when contacted for comment, one of Gen. Khan’s sons had told the project’s representative this information was “not correct” and “conjectural.”
One of Gen. Khan’s sons, Humayun Akhtar Khan, is a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, while another, Haroon Akhtar Khan, has been affiliated with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).
The OCCRP has also identified Gen. (retd.) Zahid Ali Akbar Khan as having retained an account with Credit Suisse from 2004-2006, with a maximum balance of 15,535,345 Swiss francs. It described Khan as a “retired military general who reportedly once oversaw the development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.” It noted that he had been arrested in 2013 at the Bosnian border on an international arrest warrant in coordination with Interpol, in relation to charges of corruption in Pakistan for holding assets of unknown origin in 77 different bank accounts. He made a Rs. 200 million plea bargain in a corruption case in 2015 to avoid political persecution during the tenure of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The Suisse Secrets trove covers accounts that were open from the 1940s until well into the 2010s but not the bank’s current operations. In a statement, Credit Suisse said Switzerland’s secrecy laws barred it from commenting on accusations about individual clients, but rejected any “allegations and inferences about the bank’s purported business practices,” maintaining that most of the accounts are “historical” and date back to “a time where laws, practices and expectations of financial institutions were very different from where they are now.” It added: “Furthermore, the accounts of these matters are based on partial, selective information taken out of context, resulting in tendentious interpretations of the bank’s business conduct.”
The latest leak follows the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal of 2016 that eventually led to the ouster of then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif; the ‘Paradise Papers’ expose of 2017; and the Pandora Papers revelations of last year. Despite vows of transparent accountability, no real progress has been made on probes into any of the Pakistani names—apart from Nawaz Sharif—listed in previous leaks.