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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court will commence on Thursday the hearing of a case about citizens possessing properties and maintaining bank accounts in foreign countries.

Recently, a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan took suo motu notice of the matter in exercise of powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution and summoned representatives of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the finance ministry. They are required to submit comprehensive reports about steps taken in collaboration with other state institutions for retrieval of the money stashed abroad.

During the hearing of a different case, the chief justice asked Additional Attorney General Muhammad Waqar Rana to ensure that all officials, who had been summoned by the court, would appear in the court when it would take up the case.

SBP, FBR, other agencies asked to collect information and share it with apex court

While taking the suo motu notice, the court observed it appeared that such money was siphoned off through illegal channels and without payment of taxes and represented either ill-gotten gains or kickbacks from public contracts. Such money created gross disproportion, inequality and disparity in society which warped economic activity and growth, and constituted plunder and theft of national wealth, the court said.

The order issued by the court while taking the suo motu notice said it was common knowledge for years that a large number of Pakistani citizens, living in the country, were maintaining bank accounts in foreign countries without disclosing the same to the authorities concerned or paying taxes on the money in accordance with laws.

The court ordered the SBP to furnish a comprehensive report about the steps taken under the international agreements/treaties/protocols to identify the citizens who held accounts in other countries, including the UAE, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Spain and the UK, and tax havens like British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Channel Islands.

The court also ordered the FBR to furnish a report about measures taken on the basis of information available, inter alia, through the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers and the action taken against citizens holding properties and bank accounts in foreign countries.

The Intelligence Bureau, the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Military Intelligence and the Federal Investigation Agency were also directed to share requisite information available with them with the apex court.

The SBP, the finance ministry and the Foreign Office were told to collaborate with each other, collect and share information and approach the foreign jurisdictions to obtain information through legal and diplomatic channels.

The order stated that recently the names of a large number of Pakistani citizens were disclosed in the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers.

The FBR chairman had appeared before the court and told it that appropriate action was being initiated against the citizens whose names had appeared in the Panama Papers.

However, no appreciable progress appeared to have been made in this regard, the court observed, saying that society and national economy were being damaged by illegal and surreptitious theft of the national wealth stashed in foreign countries. Otherwise the money could be utilised for the welfare of people in education, health and public welfare sectors.

The court said that such delinquency constituted violation of fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan and was a matter of public importance.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018