Busting of a multi-national money-laundering and human trafficking racket run by Pakistanis in the French capital, Paris, has raised serious questions about Pakistan’s written commitments to the anti-terrorist-financing watchdog, FATF, which is scheduled to hold its plenary session at the end of February. There is considerable fear that significant part of funds transferred by this gang would have been utilised by terrorist and extremist groups in Pakistan, which rely on `informal` channels to fund their activities. Because of this incident, along with a long list of failures to rein in terrorist groups in the past six months, Pakistan faces yet another threat of being questioned in the upcoming session.
The case has unearthed the close link between illegal immigration from Pakistan and money laundering. A thorough investigation by the Pakistani authorities into any possible links of the arrested gang with extremist groups should be called for, and the country must assure FATF of prosecution, recovery and return of the proceeds.
Following this lead, investigators from the Central Office for the Suppression of Irregular Immigration and the Employment of Undocumented Foreigners and OCRGDF (Central Office for the Suppression of Serious Financial Crime) began investigations into the presence of illegal workers operating in the Paris region, largely in the construction sector. At least 10 Pakistanis, many with French residence permits, were arrested on January 10th from the Parisian suburbs of Val-d’ Oise and SeineSaint-Denis, for suspected involvement in money-laundering, human trafficking and forgery. In the investigations, the French authorities have discovered at least twenty legal companies involved in construction business that were linked to a large network of “taxi” companies, which were used to redirect the funds to nearly 200 bank accounts opened with false papers.
These `companies` are cut-out firms created to subvert legal channels. The network, run by two brothers, transferred money to various accounts using fake invoices and documents and then withdrew large amounts from these bank accounts through ATMs. Part of the money withdrawn was used to pay illegal Pakistanis working on construction sites, the remaining was diverted to Pakistan. During searches at home and offices of the detained Pakistanis, officials recovered 157 fake identity documents; €134,000 in cash; documents related to 180 bank accounts; and false papers used to open these accounts. The documents showed that between 2019-2021 at least € 28 million were transferred to bank accounts of different people and another €13 million were transferred to accounts in the names of front companies. The illegal network of money laundering gang came into suspicion in June 2020, after suspicious packages carrying fake European documents from Pakistan via Turkey and Greece reached France. The fake documents included official documents of countries in the Schengen area, and in particular for France, including passports, identity cards and residence permits.