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Iqama — the missing link with Panama?

Updated August 02, 2017

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PESHAWAR: While probing involvement of prime minister and his children in Panama Scandal, JIT stumbled upon a clue “Iqma” or work permit of the public office holders (prime minister, planning and development minister and defence minister.

What is it about a work permit or “Iqama” of countries like UAE that tempts the political leaders-cum-business tycoons to serve there, even if just in papers and not receiving salary, than rule here in Pakistan where people elect them as their representatives?

Little does a common man or voter knows that there is more to having an Iqama or work permit in places like UAE for politicians or for that matter any rich man, who has made money, puts it in a foreign bank account but doesn’t want it to be known to his country of nationality.

According to information searched on web regarding residency and work permit in UAE, there are easy options to get residency in such countries by buying property or registering a company.

Residency of other country easy way to hide details of foreign bank accounts

“Not only does such company provide shareholders with residency, it also does provide such option for its employees, if necessary…,” says a website advising and providing service to such clients, who want to apply for UAE residency. Like the Sharif family many opt for it.

Only investment advisers, financial gurus or in simple terms bankers can know this better as they use this strategy for many rich Pakistanis, who want to open bank accounts abroad but also do not want their offshore bank details shared with the Pakistan government.

The reason is simple. Foreign banks share information, if requested, with a country of its account holder on the basis of residency rather than nationality. A Pakistani having residency like former PM in UAE would not be reported to Pakistan if ever being probed by the Pakistan government but UAE would be holding his account details and power to disclose it if ever requested by authorised bodies.

So the treaties, like the one signed by the PML-N government with Switzerland on exchange of information regarding bank accounts, don’t worry those Pakistanis, who have foreign bank accounts but also residency of UAE or any other country. Iqama or work permit is a legal proof of such residency.

Not only UAE banks but all foreign banks including Swiss banks register account holders on basis of residency rather than nationality.

So a Pakistani having shown residency of UAE while setting up his or her foreign bank account would not be reported to Pakistan government, a senior banker having experience of working in foreign banks explained why getting a residency in UAE was so popular and an Iqama or proof of it so dear to many rich Pakistanis including politicians.

“At the time of opening a foreign account, they write address or residency in UAE showing work permit or Iqama as their proof and thus get advantage of never their bank account reported to Pakistan,” said another financial expert.

Pakistan may have signed treaty with Switzerland and may have become part of global forum on an exchange of tax information of offshore accounts and investments but the dirty rich know how to evade such checks.

Ironically, the very government which signed it had an executive head or PM and other ministers, who knew how to cheat their way out. They knew foreign banks could never report their offshore accounts to Pakistan if ever there was need of a probe. And that is why a prime minister and some federal ministers had to take the pains to get an Iqama proving residency of another country to keep their gains.

National Party leader Hasil Bizinjo while defending his political ally -- PML-N -- the very next day of Supreme Court’s verdict of disqualifying Nawaz Sharif blurted out that some 60 per cent of the members of Parliament had work permits of countries other than Pakistan.

It won’t be surprising if more Iqamas of the parliamentarian surface in coming days as the curious case of Iqama is no mystery anymore. However, will people still elect such politicians in future elections is a mystery.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2017