The Supreme Court on Thursday told the counsel representing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Secretary General Jahangir Tareen that he had failed to convince the court that his client was exempted from paying tax on 18,566 acres of leased land.
A three-member apex bench ─ headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Umar Atta Bandial and Justice Faisal Arab ─ was hearing a petition filed by PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi which seeks the disqualification of Tareen and PTI Chief Imran Khan over the alleged non-disclosure of assets, existence of offshore companies, as well as receiving foreign funding for PTI.
In a previous hearing of the case, Tareen's lawyer, Advocate Sikander Mohmand, had told the court that 18,566 acres of land had been leased by his client in 2010. Tareen had earned around Rs1.6 billion agricultural income from the said land.
During Thursday's hearing, Advocate Mohmand sought, once again, to argue before the court that there are ambiguities in Punjab's agriculture tax laws and that, as a contractor of leased land, Tareen was not liable to pay income tax on revenue generated from the land.
The lawyer maintained that, while tax is payable by the owner of a piece of land, the contractor is not required to do the same.
However, the chief justice told the lawyer that income from agricultural land comes in the form of rent [to the person who owns it] and in the form of harvest revenue.
"We are trying to understand the law. We are not giving our final opinion on the matter," the chief justice clarified. "Whoever earns income from agricultural land has to pay tax."
He added that even if Tareen had acquired the land on lease, the PTI leader was earning income on it and therefore, was liable to pay tax on the revenue being generated.
The chief justice added that Tareen, consequently, had not disclosed his entire income before the Election Commission of Pakistan.
"One part of the income [from owned land] was declared in the nomination papers, while the other [from leased land] was not," the chief justice said. "What is the consequence of making incorrect declarations?'
A day earlier, Advocate Mohmand told the court that Tareen had submitted his tax returns along with his nomination papers, adding that the land owned by the PTI leader was declared on the election forms. However, he said, the election forms do not contain a column for leased land.
Advocate Mohmand admitted before the court on Thursday that Tareen had not mentioned the leased land in the election forms. He maintained, however, that no misinformation was given in the papers.
"What will be the legal implications of not paying tax on leased land?" Justice Bandial asked.
"You have not been able to satisfy the court that tax is not payable on agricultural income," the chief justice reiterated.
The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday next week.