Most news anchors won’t speak his name during their programs. A guest in a talk show was muted every time he mentioned his name. Mainstream newspapers ran cautious stories. Forget opinions and investigative features.
The story is about Malik Riaz, a Pakistani real estate tycoon, who just paid $250 million in a settlement and officials don’t want to discuss it.
On December 3, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said it had reached a settlement with Riaz and his family as part of a year-long fraud investigation.
The money, which was confiscated from bank accounts and an expensive London mansion overlooking Hyde Park, will be transferred to the Pakistani government, the NCA said.
Riaz’s family had purchased the Hyde Park property from Hassan Nawaz, a son of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who himself faces a corruption inquiry.
This is the largest such settlement since the NCA’s mandate was updated two years ago to investigate the money trail of people who might have acquired wealth from illegal means.
Bahria Town, Riaz’s company, is perhaps the largest real estate developer in Pakistan. He has built housing complexes, apartment buildings and golf courses in lavish developments that come with miniature copies of the Pyramids and amusement parks.
The Pakistan government has refused to divulge details about the settlement, saying it has been reached under a confidentiality agreement.
Riaz himself tried to spin the story by saying he’s simply bringing back money kept in foreign accounts, saying he has sold the property.
He didn’t say that the NCA was investigated him and the assets had been confiscated.
In August, the NCA froze bank accounts containing more than $150 million, which were suspected to be profits linked to kickbacks and bribes. Those accounts belonged to Malik Riaz.
Earlier this year, Riaz agreed to pay the Pakistani state around $2 billion to settle a case, which involved the illegal occupation of thousands of acres of land in Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi.
At the time, people had questioned how a businessman with little exposure to foreign markets had come to acquire such vast wealth in a country, which has time and again approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailouts.
“No one is developing real estate property like he does. Even his critics would want to go and live in his housing projects,” says a Karachi-based builder, who asked not to be named.
“There is an increasing dearth of homes in cities while the population is expanding rapidly. Young people are moving out of their parents’ home, siblings who once lived together in combined families, now want their own places. Malik Riaz has simply tapped this market on a grand scale.”
But Bahria Town faces accusations of manipulating land records and forcibly evicting people from their villages on the city outskirts to make way for its projects.
Riaz, a major advertising spender, has an outsized influence over media houses, which block coverage critical of the real estate tycoon.
“You can report on powerful military and extension issues of its commander but not Malik Riaz. You can imagine his influence,” a reporter told TRT World.
Bahria Town’s projects, which include thousands of residential and commercial properties, have also become a way for high-yield chasing investors to make quick money.
Thousands flocked to the Bahria Town offices when he announced a new project, trying to buy property documents, which are later sold at many times their face value on the underground market.
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