SC slams FBR over slow progress in foreign assets case

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ISLAMABAD: Aleema Khanum, the sister of Prime Minister Imran Khan, arrives with her lawyer at the Supreme Court to attend the hearing of foreign assets case on Monday. Ms Khanum appeared before the court in connection with her undeclared property abroad.—AFP
ISLAMABAD: Aleema Khanum, the sister of Prime Minister Imran Khan, arrives with her lawyer at the Supreme Court to attend the hearing of foreign assets case on Monday. Ms Khanum appeared before the court in connection with her undeclared property abroad.—AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday deplored perceived foot-dragging on the part of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in pursuing the case regarding illegal transfer of money from Pakistan to other countries.

“The more we are expediting the case, the slower the matter is progressing,” observed Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar while heading a three-judge bench that had taken up the case on a suo motu.

The case was initiated when it came to the court’s notice that a large number of Pakistanis are maintaining accounts in other countries without disclosing their details to the Pakistani authorities or paying taxes on the same in accordance with relevant laws.

An FBR (inland revenue) member informed the SC that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had provided data of 895 people and 1,365 properties. Of them, he said, around 360 people taking benefit of the Foreign Assets (Declaration and Repatriation) Ordinance 2018, which was promulgated on March 26 by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, disclosed their 484 properties.

Aleema Khanum, sister of PM Imran Khan, attends suo motu proceedings

The FBR member highlighted that Rs340 million had been recovered so far, while the recovery of another Rs768m was expected. He submitted that of the 1,211 Pakistanis holding properties in the United Arab Emirates, 780 had already furnished affidavits, whereas the affidavits of 418 were still awaited.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s sister Aleema Khanum, who was present in the courtroom, also disclosed her foreign properties under the amnesty scheme, the FBR stated.

At a previous hearing, the FIA had furnished a report highlighting a list of 44 politically exposed individuals or their benamidars who possessed properties in the UAE.

The report stated that the list also mentioned Aleema Khanum’s name and explained that the FIA had emailed a notice to her and also delivered it at her home where her servant said she was abroad.

In her affidavit, Ms Aleema conceded that she owned “The Lofts East 1406” — a property which was paid for from the funds generated from her business dealings overseas. But that property had already been disposed of and the FBR had been informed about its purchase and sale, the affidavit stated.

Expressing its displeasure, the court observed that despite having all the relevant data, the government failed to take a serious action that could have been done in hours. The bench observed that the matter would never have been taken up had the court not taken notice of the issue.

However, the FIA in its report stated that its zonal offices in Sindh and Punjab had cracked down on hawala/hundi operators during which it transpired that Rs26 billion had been laundered by numerous private limited companies and different individuals through trade-based under-invoicing.

On credible information, the FIA was working to unearth the flight of legitimate government revenue through unconventional means that in general parlance was hawala/hundi, the report claimed.

To initiate proceedings against the companies and individuals, the data had also been shared with the FBR, enabling it to take cognizance under relevant penal laws as well as to collect fine and penalty at 30 per cent of the amount shared in close coordination with respective FIA zonal offices, the report added.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2019