Pakistan and its ‘penniless billionaires’

Karachi: It took rickshaw driver Mohammad Rasheed a year to save 300 rupees to buy his daughter a bike, so when he found three billion rupees ($22.5 million) had passed through an unused bank account in his name, he was stunned… and scared.
“I started sweating and shivering,” said the 43-year-old — just the latest victim of a money laundering scheme that Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, has vowed to crush.
When he got a call from the Federal Investigation Agency, Rasheed’s first inclination was to go into hiding, but friends and family members finally convinced him to cooperate with officials.
His case mirrors dozens of similar stories in recent weeks that have filled newspapers in Pakistan and riled a populace long accustomed to extravagant tales of corruption and theft.
The incidents follow a similar arc — bank accounts in poor residents’ names are flooded with cash, then suddenly emptied in a laundering scheme that has likely seen hundreds of millions of dollars moved out of the country.
Rasheed’s name was eventually cleared, but his anxiety remained.
“I stopped driving my rented rickshaw on the roads because of the fear that some other investigating agencies might pick me up,” he said.
The revelation of the laundering frenzy comes as the newly elected Khan has vowed to squash rampant corruption and recover billions siphoned from the country as his government scrambles to shore up Pakistan’s deteriorating finances.
“This is your stolen money,” said the former cricketer during a televised address to the nation on Wednesday.
“It was stolen on public contracts… and transferred into these accounts, then laundered abroad.
“I will spare no corrupt man in this country,” he promised.
But for victims like Mohammad Qadir the damage has already been done.
“I have never even seen a bank from the inside,” said the 52-year-old ice cream vendor.
Transactions were nevertheless made in his name for 2.25 billion rupees. — AFP