Chasing UAE property

Updated November 10, 2017


THE panel set up to look into the alleged outflow of $8bn from Pakistan into the UAE property market has returned empty-handed, not surprisingly, citing lack of cooperation from the Emirati authorities.

Despite numerous letters written to the authorities there, no response was received, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance was told in a hearing.

The PTI member of the panel, MNA Asad Umar, is protesting that this is a deliberate fumble, pointing out other irregularities, such as the failure to follow through on critical decisions made by the panel.

The National Accountability Bureau had been asked to spearhead the approach to the Emirati authorities, but instead the task was left to the FIA for unknown reasons.

Whatever may be the political compulsions behind such a failure, the fact remains that an investigation of this sort was doomed from the start, primarily because those investing in the UAE property market are people with means, and it appears that they would prefer their holdings to remain discrete.

The lack of cooperation from the Emirati authorities is puzzling.

In other places, the FBR has also complained of this lack of support, which contrasts sharply with the prompt and detailed cooperation the same Emirati authorities lent to the Joint Investigation Team when it was drawing up its report on Nawaz Sharif’s assets abroad in the Panama Papers case.

In fact, one item of information shared by the Emiratis proved decisive in the verdict for disqualification.

One could speculate endlessly on the real game being played behind the scenes here, but the fact of the matter is that a similar investigation into Pakistan’s own property markets is equally likely to be dead on arrival.

Perhaps the committee that set up the panel should consider a similar effort into the investments made in the myriad housing colonies that are cropping up on a daily basis.

The UAE investments are different only because they involve the outflow of foreign exchange from the country, but the core dysfunction at play in both cases is the same.

The pools of black money that have accumulated over the years favour property as a destination precisely because of the opacity of the real estate market.

If the committee is serious about finding this money, they can try a second round within the country where cooperation from foreign authorities is not required.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2017