FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 05

Offshore fishing starts

The government has detected over 10,000 properties of Pakistanis worth billions of rupees in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. The owners include business people, politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats and their names will be revealed in the coming weeks. They are in deep trouble because all national institutions have been activated against them, laws are being reformed and the Supreme Court of Pakistan will oversee their prosecution.


The government claims to have traced two more undisclosed properties of former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in London and served notices on Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif, who was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in a separate case, and children of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for “misusing” official aircraft. “We have detected over 10,000 properties of Pakistanis worth billions of rupees only in two countries, the UAE and the UK,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, said at a press conference with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.


The government has divided the owners of offshore properties into two categories — politicians and other citizens — and served notices on the owners of about 300 properties in the list in the first phase. The government had formed an assets recovery unit comprising officials of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other relevant departments to investigate thousands of properties held by Pakistanis abroad. All the owners might not have made properties through illegal means, but they have been ordered to declare their assets in tax returns. Experts say the number of assets could be much more because properties in only two countries have been traced so far. Information about half of the properties in the two countries was already available with the previous governments, but no action was taken because it could have exposed the former rulers too. It is said the former rulers had sent their money abroad by introducing statutory regulatory orders (SROs) and making laws which suited them.


The government is also in contact with the Swiss government over the wealth, stashed in Switzerland by a large number of Pakistanis, especially politicians. The Pakistan government is in contact with the Swiss government for the ratification of a treaty for exchange of information, so that accurate information about properties of Pakistanis could be received. The ratification of the Swiss treaty for the exchange of information, which would give Pakistan information about bank accounts of Pakistanis, was supposed to have been completed by 2013-14, but it had been intentionally delayed by former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. If the Swiss authorities were reluctant to provide the information, the government could seek it from Germany which had already collected information about properties of Pakistanis and other countries in Switzerland. India has already obtained information from Swiss authorities. Pakistan has also invited other countries, including the UAE, the UK, China and the United States, to revisit bilateral treaties on exchange of information about bank accounts and assets.


The government has also finalised amendments to the laws for strengthening the institutional framework and a punitive regime to contain illegal outflow of money from the country and fulfil international obligations on terror financing. The amendments aim at enhancing the role of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in checking hundi, hawala and other ways of illegal transfer of money as well as tax evasions. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has also decided to issue assessment orders to Pakistanis who have assets abroad and who have not responded to its notices. In the first phase, assessment orders were issued to Pakistanis in the UK and over 300 Pakistanis with properties in the UAE, in the second phase. The FBR will start action against those who fail to respond to the notices. Their bank accounts and assets in Pakistan will be frozen and the amount mentioned in the assessment order would be recovered and submitted to the national exchequer. If the dues are not still cleared, their assets will be auctioned to recover the amount. Over 75 persons, including industrialists and businessmen, have been issued final notices. Besides, large industrial and business organisations are being monitored. Initial preparations have been made to acquire details of account holders from all private financial organisations through the State Bank of Pakistan.


The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has also sought details from more than 200 businesspeople about the transfer of money abroad. Prominent businessmen have made millions of rupee investment in Dubai and other countries in recent years, and upon information of the financial monitoring unit (FMU), notices have been sent to them. Thousands of Pakistanis own property in Dubai and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) shared a list of 300 people recently with the FIA. The business people want to save themselves under the disguise of the amnesty scheme, announced by the previous government in its last days. They also met with high-ups of the government and raised the issue of notices. The business people, who had declared their properties under the amnesty scheme, have also received letters from government agencies, asking them to submit details of their property, which, they say, is against the policy of the scheme.


According to sources, at least three owners of big media houses of Pakistan have also been issued notices for tax evasion and money laundering. They have set up businesses and own properties in the UAE and the UK. They face at least four years in jail if they failed to satisfy the authorities concerned. In revenge, they have intensified their propaganda against the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his ministers. However, it is not clear whether the list also includes the names of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his sons, who according to the British media, own more than 22 properties in London in the name of offshore companies and trusts. Rumours are rife that he would be allowed to proceed abroad in the name of treatment and he would not return for at least 11 years under an agreement. It is said the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has also consented to his exile, because it was uncomfortable with him being in the country, even in jail. If it happens, it will malign the image of the government and courts and ridicule the process of accountability.