NationalVolume 14 Issue # 12

Aleema case to boomerang?

Foreign properties of Aleema Khan provided a tool to opposition parties to target Prime Minister Imran Khan and his charity institutions. They compared her case to the Panama Papers and demanded a joint investigation team to probe her assets. She had not declared her foreign properties in tax returns, which not only created suspicion about her integrity but also maligned the image of the prime minister, her brother.

Some media houses, whose owners also own assets abroad and face investigation for tax evasion and money laundering, launched a smear campaign against her, in a bid to get relief from the government through blackmail. However, her brother asked her to appear before the Supreme Court of Pakistan and explain her position. A similar campaign was launched against Imran Khan in the Bani Gala residence case. He provided almost 7,000 documents to the court to prove he had used legitimate resources to purchase land for his residence. He had provided almost every document, which was demanded by the court. His sister was also expected to meet the same criterion and provide details and money trail of her foreign properties, but she failed the test when the court fined her for not declaring the UAE property in tax returns.

Her name started appearing on the list of people, whose foreign properties were detected by law enforcement agencies and tax authorities, in 2015. However, she refused to cooperate with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) despite several notices. She was summoned by the Supreme Court in December last year, which ordered her to pay Rs29.4 million tax liabilities, which was determined by the FBR. In an affidavit submitted to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), she had already revealed that she owned a property in Dubai and that it was paid from the funds generated from her business dealing overseas. She had purchased the property worth $370,000 in 2008, with 50pc bank mortgage, but sold it in 2017. An FBR report said her conduct was uncooperative. She also owns a four-storey building in New Jersey, according to US property records. The flats were not declared to the tax authorities in Pakistan by Aleema Khan till the financial year ending June 30, 2017. She declared them in the tax year ending June 30, 2018.

The main opposition parties, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who leaders are facing corruption and money laundering cases, attempted to politicize her case for point-scoring, without realizing the fact that she has never been in politics and her brother has become the prime minister of Pakistan a few months ago after remaining in the opposition for over two decades. He or his sister had no chance of plundering the national wealth, unlike the PPP and PML-N leaders, who remained in power for decades. As Aleema also raises funds for Imran Khan’s cancer hospital, she was accused of embezzlement of donations. Imran Khan has himself faced the charge for decades, though without substance.

In a bid to implicate the prime minister, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb raised questions over the sources of income of Aleema Khan for buying a multi-storey building in the United States, and labelled her a “benamidar” (ostensible owner) for the premier. In a statement on Twitter, she cast aspersions on the discovery of the expensive property, saying: “What were the sources with which Aleema Baji bought the multi-billion rupee property? Aleema Baji, is in fact, Imran Khan’s benamidar.” She remarked that the “sources of income can rather be traced to the fundraising held for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital (SKMCH) and the board members of Namal University”. Her tweet drew a sharp response from Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who said: “When you yourself have not done an ounce of good in your life, then don’t make institutions like Shaukat Khanum and Namal University controversial and that too in order to breathe new life into your dead politics.” He reminded the PML-N leader that Aleema had never held public office and had already declared all her property. “Your politics is now limited to concocting false stories,” the information minister said. The PPP also swung into action and demanded the name of Aleema be placed on the exit control list and called for a probe into her properties.

The opposition believes the government had launched an investigation to detect foreign properties of its leaders, but instead Aleema’s assets were discovered, which embarrassed the prime minister and the government. However, it is a fact that the PML-N government had obtained the list of people owning properties in the UAE in 2015, but it swept the matter under the carpet because the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his children, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and other party leaders were also part of the list.

After the opposition intensified its attack on the prime minister, he asked his sister to appear before the court and explain her position. She presented tax and business details of herself and her husband to the court. In her affidavit, she said the New Jersey property was bought through her husband’s assets with an investment of Rs140.5m, and it was built for business after taking a loan from a bank. “My husband has been in the textile business for over 20 years and the profit generated by the business was invested in the form of property in New Jersey. Our annual export orders stand at nearly Rs2 billion,” she said.

The fact that she was fined Rs29.4m by the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) over her property in Dubai for concealing it, has maligned her image, though she has presented proof it was bought through an investment of over Rs30m and the money was transferred through legal banking channels. The case has damaged her reputation, because people could not expect it from the sister of Imran Khan, though businesspeople all over the world use similar tactics to evade taxes. However, the matter could also be a serious warning to over 60,000 Pakistanis, who own properties and bank accounts abroad. The opposition blew up the issue for political point-scoring, but it has the potential to boomerang and hurt its leaders. If the sister of the prime minister can face a tough test, they should get ready for rigorous interrogations.