The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Monday informed the Supreme Court that Pakistanis own properties and assets worth US$150 billion in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) alone.
Hearing a suo motu case pertaining to foreign properties, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar expressed discontentment with the lack of progress in bringing back money from abroad, adding that those who have not declared their assets should be charged with money laundering.
State Bank of Pakistan Governor Tariq Bajwa, who was present for the hearing, apprised the court that London authorities had provided information about properties of 225 individuals to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). “Amicus curiae Shabbar Zaidi, however, has issued notices to 300 individuals for owning properties abroad. Most of the money has been transferred abroad through hawala,” he said. “We will request the Dubai authorities to take up legal proceedings against those who have not declared their foreign properties under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 2017,” he added.
Responding to SBP governor, Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked that the terms of reference of the committee were ‘simple’. “These are the people who have stolen money and taken it abroad.” The chief justice remarked that a notice was taken in the case five years ago but the progress has been slow.
“The amnesty scheme set a two per cent tax which was very less. Indonesia set a 17 per cent tax hence the scheme was successful there. According to the report, nearly eight billion dollars worth of property has been declared,” Justice Bandial noted.
The apex court also sought a list of individuals who had failed to disclose foreign properties in wealth statements submitted to the FBR and instructed the bureau to ensure the names were submitted in a sealed envelope. The court also warned of strict action against any individual who leaked the information.
Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Anwar Mansoor Khan said the Imran Khan-led government was pursuing the matter and had formed a task force to retrieve money stashed in foreign countries. “The government has taken ownership of the issue and will work under the SC supervision.”
The bench adjourned the hearing until the outcome of AGP’s meeting with PM Imran. The next hearing is scheduled for September 5.
Meanwhile, the FIA submitted an executive summary to the SC-constituted standing committee tasked to prepare terms of reference (ToRs) and assist the government recover money smuggled out of the country and stashed in foreign accounts. In its report, the FIA recommended expanding the scope of the investigation to countries other than the UAE and UK. “British government listed Pakistan among top three money laundering source countries after Nigeria and Russia in its National Crime Agency Report 2018,” it noted, and requested the standing committee to include information revealed after Panama, Paradise and Bahama leaks pertaining to properties owned by Pakistani nationals.
The agency said it had taken cognizance of 2,750 undisclosed properties belonging to Pakistani nationals in the UAE. “If each property is valued at a conservation estimate of Rs 40 million, the value of UAE assets under inquiry with the FIA comes to Rs 110 billion which is only 2.5 per cent of Rs 4240 billion – the value of officially known assets of Pakistanis in UAE.”
FIA’s anti-corruption wing instituted 54 criminal inquiries against 662 undeclared properties owned by Pakistani citizens on first source report. “However they were stalled due to non-provision of record by the real estate regulatory agency of Dubai Land Development and subsequently by the Tax Amnesty Scheme 2018 regulated by Foreign Assets (Declaration and Repatriation) Ordinance 2018. The inquiries have been re-initiated.”
Another 621 criminal inquiries have been launched on second source reports and 1,467 were initiated on the basis of cyber intelligence reports.