Over 7,000 Pakistanis own properties worth over Rs700b in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They include former high-ranking military officials, politicians, bureaucrats, owners of media houses and journalists. The most shocking aspect of the list, called “Dubai leaks,” is that UAE authorities had provided complete details of the owners to relevant Pakistani departments in 2015, but the government has not been interested in bringing back national wealth or including the owners in the tax net, because top leaders of the ruling party are also involved in it.
Most people have bought the properties in the name of their children. They include former Pakistan President and Army Chief Pervez Musharraf, former Air Marshal (retd) Shahid Latif, PML-N Senator Raheela Magsi, former Balochistan Chief Minister Akhtar Mengal, ex-PPP Sindh Minister Sharjeel Memon, PPP MNA Munawar Talpur, who is brother-in-law of former President Asif Ali Zardari, a media house owner, who is very close to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and dozens of journalists of the group. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s sons also own properties worth billions of rupees. Over 269 women also own properties in the UAE, including PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s sister Aleema Khan. As former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his sons and Ishaq Dar’s sons, one of them being son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif, also own properties and businesses in the UAE, action has not been taken against any accused. If they had not been involved, action would have been taken against the owners long ago.
Interestingly, the issue has been kept alive in the parliament by PTI MNA Asad Umrar, despite the name of sister of his chairman on the list. He requested the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance to allow a journalist, who had broken the story in 2015, to brief it about the stance of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) on details of the Pakistani citizens who own properties in Dubai. Instead, a briefing by another journalist was arranged, which embarrassed the FIA and FBR officials present in the meeting. The journalist informed the committee the two organizations had received the record from UAE authorities in 2015, but they have sitting on them since then. The committee was informed the Dubai Land Authority had sent a list of Pakistanis who owned real estate in Dubai to the FBR in 2015. The list included all details of the owners, including addresses of their properties, passport numbers, names and even ages. “I received a soft copy of the list from a senior officer of the FBR in 2015. There are more than 35,000 names of people of various nationalities around the world on the list,” the journalist informed the committee.
The committee decided to forward the list and the case to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) but Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal attempted to frustrate the effort on the pretext that an inquiry could start only if the journalist was ready to disclose his source in the FBR, who provided the list to him. It created an impression among the legislators that the government wanted to cover up the corruption and malpractices and mismanagement in the FIA and the FBR. “We have been discussing the matter for months and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has clearly informed us that no permission has been given to anybody to take money abroad to purchase property, therefore, the whole process of buying the property was illegal. It is the primary responsibility of the FBR, the FIA and the NAB to probe the matter,” a PML-N MNA said.
According to the documents, Pakistanis have bought over 967 villas/residential properties in luxury areas of Greens; 75 precious flats in Emirates Hills; 165 properties in Discovery Garden (residential and commercial); 167 flats in Jumeirah Island; 123 residential properties in Jumeirah Park; 245 plush flats in Jumeirah Village; 10 properties in Palm Deira; 160 in Palm Jabel Ali; 25 properties in Palm Juemirah Shorelines; 234 properties in International City; and 230 in Dubai Cilicon. Around 200 Pakistanis, who are Canadian nationals, 50 with Australian nationality and four holding New Zealand citizenship own residential properties in Dubai.
Like the Panama leaks, the government was not willing to probe the Dubai leaks for fear that the PML-N and the PPP leaders would be exposed in the scam. However, it appears the government will not able to sweep the issue under the carpet for long as the Supreme Court of Pakistan has constituted a three-member committee to make terms of reference (TORs) to trace properties of Pakistanis abroad, recover money smuggled out of the country and stashed in foreign accounts. The committee will be headed by State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Tariq Bajwa and comprises Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Mohammad Irshad and Federal Finance Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan. Pakistan Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar formed the committee after the FBR claimed there were no legal guidelines for the tax authority to retrieve money stashed in foreign banks.
The issue has also been taken up by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which has become active after the appointment of a new chairman. It is possible that some people might have transferred money abroad through legal channels and paid their taxes but it is believed that most of them have bought properties in the UAE illegally. Business people may get away with fines but politicians face serious consequences. They could be disqualified for life for concealing assets, tax evasion and money laundering. Former President Asif Ali Zardari and few PML-N ministers also own properties in the UAE, which spell serious trouble for them ahead of elections.