PM’s aide quits following family business allegations

Published September 4, 2020
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Infor­mation retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa. — Reuters/File
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Infor­mation retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: A week after allegations were levelled regarding his family’s assets, retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, while rejecting the allegations, said on Thursday he was resigning as special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) on information and broadcasting and would submit his resignation to the PM on Friday (today).

However, Mr Bajwa said, he would continue working as chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority.

He said he had all documents about his family’s assets and was ready to present them and money trail before any judicial forum.

A few days ago, journalist Ahmed Noorani broke the news on a website alleging that Mr Bajwa had used his offices in setting up of off-shore businesses of his wife, sons and brothers.

The report said Mr Bajwa’s younger brothers opened their first Papa John’s pizza restaurant in 2002, the year he started working as a lieutenant colonel on the General Pervez Musharraf’s staff.

However, Asim Bajwa will continue working as CPEC Authority chairman

According to the news report, Nadeem Bajwa, 53, who started as a delivery driver for the pizza restaurant franchise, his brothers and Asim Bajwa’s wife and sons now own a business empire which set up 99 companies in four countries, including a pizza franchise with 133 restaurants worth an estimated $39.9 million. Out of the total 99 firms, 66 are main companies, 33 are branch companies of some of the main companies while five firms are dead now.

The Bajwa family’s companies spent an estimated $52.2m to develop their businesses and $14.5m to purchase properties in the United States.

The news report further said that Mr Bajwa’s wife was a shareholder in all the foreign businesses from the very beginning and at present she is associated with or is a shareholder in 85 companies including 82 foreign companies (71 in United States, seven in UAE and four in Canada). The records of US state governments and other documents related to the companies show that some of these American companies (all jointly owned by Mr Asim’s wife Farrukh Zeba) also have investments in real estate sector and own 13 commercial properties in the United States, including two shopping centers. Estimated current net worth of businesses and properties of these companies jointly owned by Farrukh Zeba stands at $52.7m.

In his statements of assets and liabilities signed in June as the special assistant to prime minister, Asim Bajwa had declared an investment of $18,468 in his wife’s name and they have no “immovable property” outside Pakistan.

Mr Bajwa, soon after the news surfaced, had refuted the allegations about his family’s assets in strong words and termed them “incorrect and false”.

In a statement on Thursday, he rejected the allegations hurled by the journalist and said: “The news broken by Ahmed Noorani on an unknown website on 27.08.2020 regarding myself, is vehemently denied as incorrect and false.

“I have not shied away to explain the allegations shamelessly levelled against me. These allegations have been hurled at me to tarnish my image.”

According to the statement, the news carried allegations that his declaration of assets and liabilities as an SAPM dated Aug 22 was incorrect because he had failed to disclose the investment made by his wife abroad.

The news report also alleged that Mr Bajwa’s brothers had conducted businesses in the US and the growth of their business was relatable to his promotion in the Pakistan Army.

Mr Bajwa, who was also asked by his colleagues including Information Minister Shibli Faraz to respond to the allegations, said that on the date of filing of the assets declaration, i.e. Aug 22, his wife was no longer an investor or shareholder in any business of his brothers or anyone else, abroad.

“My wife had disinvested all her interests as at 01.06.2020 in any entity abroad and such fact has been duly documented in the official records in the USA. It may be pointed out that company registered in the SECP in Pakistan was liaison office of the companies in the USA. The process of change of name in the SECP in Pakistan has been conducted in due course, but that was only a ministerial function since the interest in the parent companies in the USA stood no more in the name of my wife as on 22.06.2020 i.e. the date of filing of my declaration of assets and liabilities as an SAPM,” he said.

Mr Bajwa said from 2002 till Aug 1 this year, (18 years) the total amount out of investment made by his wife in the companies of his brothers in the US had been $19,492. “This investment was made by my wife through my savings spread over a period of eighteen years, all of which are fully accounted for. Not once the rules or regulations prescribed by the SBP were violated,” he claimed.

With regard to the alleged investment of his brothers in the pizza chain Papa John’s in the US and the UAE, he said the news story asserted that Bajco Global Management, LLC was the parent company of all Bajco-related businesses. “This is far from truth as Bajco Global Management, LLC is not parent of any company and is only a management company that provides management services to all Bajco-related businesses on a fee basis. Bajco Global Management, LLC does not have any ownership interest in any Papa John’s in the USA, DQ, UAE or any real estate.

The author further makes a false claim that Bajco owns 99 companies. The author has listed many companies multiple times in his list. There are a total of 27 active companies in the US and 2 in the UAE,” he said. “In a span of 18 years i.e. from 2002 till date my brothers purchased the franchise and assets related thereto and real estate to the tune of $70 million, out of which around $60 million was through bank loans and financial facilities.

“Over a period of 18 years the actual out of pocket cash investment into the said businesses by my brothers and wife has been about $73,950. It is further pointed out that out of $73,950, my wife’s contribution, as stated aforesaid, is $19,492. Thus, the total out of pocket cash contribution of my five brothers, over a period of eighteen years, has been $54,458,” he said.

Regarding allegations about businesses of his children, Mr Bajwa said it had been alleged that one of his sons owned a company, Scion Builders and Estates (Pvt) Ltd, which had been registered in the SECP. “However, this company has never done any business and is dormant since inception,” he claimed.

Mr Bajwa said one of his sons was not the sole owner of a private company called Hima­laya Ltd, but owned only 50pc of its shares.

Regarding a business entity, Mochi Cordwainers, registered in the name of one of his sons, he said it was true that his son was the sole proprietor of the small entity, but for the last five years it had only incurred losses.

Mr Bajwa said a business entity, Krypton, was owned by his son. It dealt in mines and minerals and was registered at the time when he was posted in Balochistan. “Unfortunately, no one has bothered to find out the said business entity is registered as a sole proprietorship in the FBR in 2019, but it has always been dormant and has not done any business.”

He said another company, Advance Marketing (Pvt) Ltd, was owned by one of his sons, but it had also remained dormant and had never conducted any business.

“This is an averment levelled against me that the company, Scion Management Group LLC, owned by my sons owns a house in the USA. If the journalist in question had bothered to find out facts honestly, justly and fairly, he would have also found out that the house in question was only bought for an amount of $31,000 in a cheap foreclosure proceedings; and the amount of $31,000 is fully justified by my two sons through their own independent sources. This is a small house,” he claimed.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2020

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