Pakistan mourned the demise of a “renowned industrialist and social figure”, Seth Abid Hussain, the man who had allegedly built his business empire through the smuggling of gold. He died on January 8, at the age of 85.
Abid Hussian, a millionaire, gold merchant, and philanthropist, was famous for his role in delivering the nuclear reprocessing plant to Pakistan at a time when the United States had banned the Islamic country from going ahead with it.
According to reports, after Washington’s ban, Hussian had helped Pakistan develop its nuclear program by bringing the nuclear reprocessing plant all the way from France via sea, which turned him into an urban legend of sorts.
Therefore, the news of his passing away, following a short battle with illness, left the whole nation devastated. Following his death, funeral prayers were offered on January 9 at the Hafiz Ayaz Mosque in Karachi.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan joined countless others in expressing grief over his demise. In a tweet issued on Sunday (January 10), Khan said, “Saddened to learn of the passing of Seth Abid Hussain. He was one of the early donors of SKMT (Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre). Condolences and prayers go to his family.”
Saddened to learn of the passing of Seth Abid Hussain. He was one of the early donors of SKMT. Condolences and prayers go to his family.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 10, 2021
Abid Hussain was born in 1936 in the border region of Kasur, where members of his community dealt in the trade of leather brought in from Calcutta (now Kolkata) prior to India’s partition.
In 1950, he moved to Karachi, where his father began a gold and silver business in the city’s Sarafa Bazaar (Karachi Gold Market). It was there where he made a name for himself and is even said to have devised the rules and regulations for the functioning of the market itself.
He forayed into gold smuggling after he came in contact with some fishermen, who would smuggle the yellow metal from Karachi to Dubai.
A Lahore-based newspaper described him as “a golden fugitive, an extraordinary man, a master of disguise and a person as cunning as a fox”.
According to a BBC report, Abid Hussain had everything in himself to become the ‘King of Gold’ in the smuggling business, as he had established networks within the Pakistani border as well outside it.
He had good relationships with the state’s elite and the government officials, and in order to set up his empire, he had built a comprehensive system of goodwill on moral grounds. It is said that Seth Abid had a huge role to play in the smuggling of gold within Pakistan.
His operation was not limited to Karachi and Punjab in Pakistan, it had its reach up to India and beyond as well. And he established contacts in the government administration and the political circles in Pakistan.
Hussian’s exploits in gold smuggling, especially during the period from 1950 to 1980, attracted the attention of agents all over the globe — in London, Delhi, and Dubai, after which he developed interim contacts outside Pakistan.
At the start, his system only consisted of a network of close relatives, including his brother Haji Ashraf, who was based in Dubai, and his son-in-law Ghulam Sarwar. Later, on his visits across the border to Delhi, he met another gold smuggler who went by the name of Harbans Lal.
Soon after, he also got in touch with Charles Maloney, a person working for British Airways in the UK, who later became his prime ‘facilitator’. Reportedly, Hussian would often visit Hajj, almost every year, and improved his relations with Arab Sheikh operators.
While his business flourished for many decades, his smuggling operations were severely hampered under the rule of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, after which several of his assets were seized.
Following multiple raids on his properties, Hussian voluntarily surrendered to Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime in 1977, following Zia’s seizing of power from Bhutto.
It is said that Hussian even provided a large grant of approximately Rs 151,000 for the construction project of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center Hospital (JPMC), which turned his status from a gold smuggler into a ‘patriot’.
Later, he went on to set up charitable organizations such as the Hamza Foundation for the welfare of deaf and mute children.
He also contributed to numerous charity groups and became the initial donor of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Lahore.
“I personally know that the national services rendered by Seth Abid are valuable which will always be remembered,” said former Pakistan Prime Minister Ch Shujaat Hussain, while speaking about Abid.