ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue’s benami (prohibition) zones have stepped up investigations into high-profile cases involving 25 politicians said to have benami assets worth over Rs8 billion in Punjab and Sindh, sources privy to the development told Dawn.
These politicians have registered thousands of kanals of benami lands and assets in the name of 73 benamidars in the two provinces, according to the sources.
Fifteen of these 25 high-profile cases are under investigation of Lahore zone only, while Karachi and Islamabad zones are investigating five cases each.
In one such case involving 7,500-kanal benami land, the Islamabad Zone has so far filed six references before an adjudicating authority against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Chaudhry Tanvir Khan under the Benami Act. Another case, which is at an advanced stage of investigation under the Islamabad zone, involves more than 125,000-kanal benami land believed to be linked to the Sharif family.
Benami properties worth over Rs8 billion in Punjab and Sindh being probed
While the officials were reluctant to disclose details of the remaining three cases under investigation of the Islamabad zone, the sources confirmed that the three other cases also involved politicians whereas there were a total of 10 benamidars in the five cases.
Official documents seen by Dawn show that no reference has so far been filed in the five cases being investigated by the Karachi zone into benami assets which were believed to be linked to politicians and 15 cases being probed by the Lahore zone of the FBR. These cases are at an advanced stage but their respective zones have yet to bring them to a logical end. The Lahore zone covers the entire Punjab except the civil Rawalpindi division, while the Karachi zone is responsible for Sindh and Balochistan. The Islamabad zone has been given the responsibilities of Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and civil division of Rawalpindi.
In all, 90 show-cause notices have been issued in the Lahore and Karachi zone cases involving 39 and 24 benamidars, respectively.
These cases are in addition to the case of Omni Group assets worth Rs15bn having a total of 45 beneficial owners linked to Pakistan Peoples Party. So far, 10 references have been filed before an adjudicating authority in the case under the Benami Act.
Most of the high-profile cases involving 25 politicians emerged from the data reported by district land revenue authorities as part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative in which he directed all deputy commissioners across the country to report benami assets in their areas.
In a letter sent to provincial governments on Aug 28, 2019, PM Khan had sought details of benami properties, but the call received a setback in the past five months due to lackluster response from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other provinces.
The response from KP government is lukewarm towards the identification of benami properties. Only a few properties in Peshawar and district Tank were identified as benami.
Across the province of Punjab, 228 benami properties (28,607-kanal land) worth Rs72.796bn were identified in 13 districts — Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Chiniot, Khushab, Multan, Nankana Sahib, Sahiwal, Toba Tek Singh, Pakpattan, Gujrat, Hafizabad, Faisalabad and Lahore.
In Sindh province, the district authorities have not identified much property as enquiries are more or less being done on individual complaints.
The data to be provided should include mutation deeds, fard, sale deeds, jamabandi etc without which it is not possible to prove that the land in question is benami or not.
The details of such properties once received from the provinces are sent to the benami zones. The government has established the three benami zones at Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, which investigates cases and file references before an adjudicating authority based in Islamabad.
The decision of the adjudicating authority can be challenged at a tribunal to be headed by a high court judge. The government has yet to establish the tribunal which was a requirement under the law despite a lapse of six months.
Since the implementation of benami law with effect from July 1, 2019 the benami zones have filed a total of 22 references worth Rs12.8bn before appellate tribunals. Eight more references involving assets worth Rs2.2bn are expected to be filed next week.
So far, the total number of cases under investigation is nearly 600 where 730 benamidars and 231 beneficial owners are being examined. The estimated monetary value of these cases is around Rs72bn.
The first reference under the law was filed on August 27, 2019. These references were filed against beneficial owners of more than 71,000 kanals of benami land, millions of shares in renowned industries in Pakistan, various houses and luxury vehicles held by benamidars.
The data show that three zones are currently investigating other cases and have provisionally attached around 140 assets across Pakistan where the cumulative value of these assets goes beyond Rs30.5bn. The Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi zones attached 27, 13 and 100 properties, respectively.
During the attachment, no one can transfer the properties or take any benefit from these assets. However, the zones will have to complete the investigation within 90 days after the issuance of show-cause notice for attachment of assets.
After the investigation, a reference will be filed before an adjudicating authority under the Benami Act. The proceedings will be completed within two months by the authority. The properties will be de-attached in case the beneficiary owner provided evidence of the assets to the anti-Benami authority.
In case the Benamidar does not provide enough evidence on the Benami property in question, the government will confiscate the property and the adjudicating authority can jail the people in whose names these properties are registered.
The benami law provides the right of appeal at the level of tribunal, and Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020