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ISLAMABAD: The Fede­ral Investigation Agency got a green signal from the Supreme Court on Wednesday to inquire from the owners of 2,700 properties identified recently by the agency about the sources that led to acquisition of the assets abroad.

A three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar also asked FIA Director General Bashir Memon to kick-start the campaign by summoning at least top 20 people in the list of owners of the properties stashed abroad and ask them to submit affidavits explaining the sources of their wealth — whether the capital to acquire the properties was transferred illegally or legally out of Pakistan.

Take a look: SC wants to get back Rs600 billion stashed abroad by Pakistanis

The court had taken up a suo motu case relating to illegal transfer of money from Pakistan to foreign countries. The case was initiated when it came to the notice of the court that a large number of Pakistani citizens are maintaining accounts in foreign countries without disclosing to the local authorities or paying taxes on them in accordance with the law.

The apex court also hinted at helping out the FIA in its endeavour in case it has any capacity issue.

Adjourning the proceedings for a fortnight, the court also asked the FIA to inform it about those reluctant to share information about the sources of their income. In that case, the court said, it would summon and ask them to furnish affidavits explaining their sources.

The FIA chief informed the court that the agency had detected about 2,700 properties owned by Pakistanis in different countries, adding that the agency intended to ask them about the sources of their wealth.

The court turned down FIA’s request to give it a month to conduct the exercise and instead granted the agency 15 days to do so.

At the last hearing on Sept 3, the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) had informed the court that a staggering $150 billion was stashed alone in the United Arab Emirates through 550 properties.

Smuggling of money

During the proceedings, the court expressed concern over unchecked smuggling and sought periodic reports on measures taken to check smuggling of money through hawala and hundi.

At the outset, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor informed the court that the present government intended to bring out a mutual legal assistance (MLA) bill 2018 and it would soon be submitted to the cabinet for approval.

A report submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) under the Task Force for Recovery of Unlawfully Assets Acquired Abroad explained that in view of the urgency the federal government intended to promulgate the MLU bill in the form of an ordinance and it would be placed before parliament for final approval.

In line with the resolve of the new government against money laundering, police launched a crackdown on the hundi and hawala business on Sept 15 in Peshawar where a large number of illegal hawala agents were apprehended and foreign and local currencies worth Rs29 million were seized along with a large quantity of hardware data, including mobile phones, laptops and CPUs.

The attorney general informed the court that similar raids would also be conducted in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan and other cities.

On taxing the foreign assets of Pakistani citizens and residents, the report said, the ARU was working on ratification of avoidance of double taxation with Switzerland, which was ratified earlier this year by Pakistan but awaiting ratification from the Swiss side. The Foreign Office had been asked to seek earlier ratification from the Swiss side and, if needed, a high-powered delegation be sent for its ratification and implementation of exchange of information under its purview, it added.

Officials from the FBR and ARU are working on listing other jurisdiction where Pakistan needs to renew or enter into similar agreement with which the FBR will be able to tax any asset of Pakistani citizen or resident in the respective jurisdiction. Moreover, the report said, the unit with the assistance of the Foreign Office had negotiated and agreed upon a partnership for justice and accountability between Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

The report explained that through this working partnership both sides had nominated a single point person for all mutual cooperation on the operational level between the UK and Pakistan who shall liaise on all requests for mutual legal assistance, extradition and all relevant exchanges on matters pertaining to money laundering, financial crimes, asset recovery, immigration and organised crime.

The report said that ARU in its working with UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) recently carried out a joint operation in one such pending case where a person required in an FIA case in Pakistan had absconded from Pakistan to the UK. He had allegedly laundered up to Rs250m from Pakistan as proved through banking records. This information was shared with the NCA wherein it was shown that the money was transferred from Pakistan to Dubai, from Dubai to Switzerland and the US and eventually landed in the UK, the report said.

It added that the NCA after confirmation of money trail and evidence acted swiftly and on Sept 17 arrested two individuals from their UK home who had real estate worth 8 million pound, in addition to expensive cars and numerous bank accounts.

“The NCA is in process of seizing the assets and properties and is in constant contact with ARU and FIA. But due to the request and laws in the UK, we are not disclosing the identity of this Pakistani individual publically,” the report added.

State Bank Governor Tariq Bajwa said the properties detected in the UAE had been taken as a pilot project and it would soon summon such people to explain the source of the properties.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018