ISLAMABAD: After the falling of the curtain on the tax amnesty scheme on July 3, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Shabbar Zaidi has asked the chiefs of all banks to collect details of benami accounts holders as part of a government drive to document the economy.
“We will appreciate your help [in providing] information about benami accounts within 14 days,” said the FBR chairman in a letter addressed to the heads of banks, asking them to collect the details under the Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Act 2017.
The government announced a tax amnesty scheme on May 14 — which expired on July 3 — with the aim to provide the maximum opportunity to people to declare their hidden assets and accounts. The government also has taken several other measures to document the economy.
The term benami refers to the practice of holding property/assets in the name of one person for the benefit of another. However, benami is often aimed at concealing ownership of assets acquired through illegal means, defrauding creditors, and/or evading payments of government fees, charges or taxes.
Shabbar expects information from financial institutions within 14 days
The FBR chairman in his letter recalled an earlier meeting held with the chief financial officers of all banks wherein it was agreed that all banks will internally institute an exercise seeking information from their account holders about the ‘mandated’ or ‘benami accounts’ holders within their system. Mr Zaidi hoped that requisite steps would have been taken by the banks to gather this information.
The FBR chairman added that the body is mandated to take action against benami accounts under the law. He requested banks to share with the FBR all the gathered information in this regard, which is reportedly to be kept highly confidential. The FBR has a legal obligation under the law to identify such assets.
In his letter, the FBR chairman stated that the best approach in this regard is mutual cooperation, voluntary compliance and close coordination between banks and the FBR. The board has decided to expedite action against individuals who did not avail the opportunity to declare their assets under an amnesty scheme announced by the government. The FBR has already started putting in place new staff for taking action against such individuals. The board, as per the statement, does not want to contact account holders directly “so that people’s trust in the FBR can be maintained”.
In March, FBR officials said that the act had been implemented to stop transactions being conducted through benami accounts, the numbers of which run into the hundreds of thousands.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019