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Pakistani property tycoons excluded from the UK

Pakistani property tycoons excluded from the UK

A visit visa can be cancelled for a variety of reasons. One such reason is that the person’s exclusion from the UK is “conducive to the public good” due to their conduct, character and associations.

The Court of Appeal considered this provision in Hussain & Anor v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] EWCA Civ 2781. The court decided that a “pattern of financial misconduct” by two Pakistani nationals justified cancellation of their UK visit visas. It is a good example of conduct that can be held to justify exclusion from the UK, even without any criminal conviction.

A note on terminology: the decision refers to paragraph V3.3 of Appendix V to the Immigration Rules. This paragraph no longer exists. The grounds for cancellation of a visit visa were amalgamated with the grounds for cancellation of other visas last year. The rule being considered here can now be found at paragraph 9.3.2 of Part 9.

Visit visas cancelled over financial misconduct

Malik Riaz Hussain is chairman of the company Bahria Town. His son, Ahmed Ali Riaz, is chief executive officer. Bahria Town is “described as the largest property developer in Asia”.

In May 2018 the Supreme Court of Pakistan considered the lawfulness of a series of land transactions which resulted in Bahria Town obtaining valuable government-owned land in Karachi to develop, in exchange for other land owned by the company. A majority decided that the transfer was unlawful as “…the land obtained by Bahria Town had been massively undervalued”. One judge dissented.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court instructed a Joint Investigation Team to investigate bribery and money laundering (as a result of separate court proceedings). This investigation revealed that Bahria Town had transferred huge deposits into fake bank accounts and accused the company of “land grabbing”. It led, in turn, to anti-corruption proceedings in Pakistan’s Accountability Court which named 18 individuals and companies, including Mr Ali and Bahria Town.

The UK authorities also took action against the company. Westminster Magistrates’ Court granted account freezing orders in relation to funds held by Mr Ali and his wife. The value of the frozen money was “in the order of £140 million”. The UK’s National Crime Agency suspected that the funds were the proceeds of the criminal offences of land theft, bribery, and money laundering, carried out by Mr Malik, Mr Ali and Bahria Town in Pakistan. It was later returned to the Pakistani state as part of a settlement.

Having considered all of the above, the Home Office concluded that Mr Malik and Mr Ali had been involved in “corruption and financial/ commercial misconduct” and cancelled their visit visas.

Challenge to the Home Office’s decision

Mr Ali and Mr Malik challenged the Home Office’s decision on various grounds. These included failing to take into account the content and implication of the dissent in the Pakistan Supreme Court judgment of May 2018, and the decision-maker’s cumulative reliance on weak strands of evidence to justify the decision.

They also pointed out that the Supreme Court was not seeking to take forward any criminal proceedings or investigation. The other investigations were no more than prosecutorial documents “containing untried and untested allegations”. Neither Mr Malik nor Mr Ali has any criminal convictions in any jurisdiction.

The lack of criminal conviction did not get them very far. Home Office guidance confirms that:

A person does not need to have a criminal conviction to be refused admission on non-conducive grounds.

The question was not whether all of this amounted to a criminal offence, but whether it justified the Home Office’s conclusion that excluding Mr Ali and Mr Malik from the UK would be conducive to the public good.

The court’s conclusion

Lady Justice Nicola Davies, delivering the leading judgment, began by summarising the correct approach in this type of case:

In approaching the issue of the exclusion of a person from the UK on the ground that it is conducive to the public good due to the individual’s conduct, character and associations, a broad discretion is accorded to the decision-maker. In making the decision, the burden of proof is upon the respondent. The civil standard of proof is to be applied with the qualification that the seriousness of the allegation is to be reflected in the quality of the evidence required which is to be subject to critical and anxious scrutiny. [Paragraph 67]

She ultimately concluded that the respondent (i.e. the Home Office) had discharged that burden in this case. The Supreme Court judgments and the detail provided in the Joint Investigation Team report:

…of themselves provided evidence of sufficient strength and quality to enable the decision-maker, on the balance of probabilities, to conclude that by reason of each appellant’s involvement with corruption and financial/commercial misconduct his exclusion from the UK would be conducive to the public good due to the conduct, character and associations of each appellant. Further, it is clear from the detail of each letter that the evidence had been subject to critical scrutiny by the decision-maker. [86]

There was nothing wrong with the Home Office considering the totality of the evidence, rather than looking at each strand in isolation:

It was open to the decision-maker to consider the cumulative effect of each strand of evidence and in so doing to draw inferences having regard to the whole of the evidence. The totality principle requires relevant evidence to be examined cumulatively and not piece by piece.

The Home Office’s decisions to cancel Mr Ali’s and Mr Malik’s visas were therefore upheld.

Iain Halliday is an Advocate (the Scottish equivalent of a Barrister) at Themis Advocates. He specialises in public law, including immigration and asylum, retained EU law, human rights, and judicial review.