–Chief Justice Nisar expresses frustration over lack of progress in recovering money stashed abroad
–SBP chief informs court Pakistanis own assets worth $150bn in UAE alone, 225 Pakistanis own property in UK
ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Monday said that Pakistanis who have not declared their foreign assets should be charged with money laundering, as he expressed frustration over the lack of progress in recovering money stashed abroad.
The CJP made the remarks while hearing a suo motu case against properties owned by Pakistani nationals in foreign countries.
During the hearing, the court was informed that Pakistanis own around $150 billion worth of properties and assets in the UAE alone.
The revelation came in a report compiled and presented in court by chartered accountancy firm AF Ferguson. The report was submitted in connection with a SC case on Pakistani nationals’ properties and bank accounts abroad. The firm, however, cautioned that the data be ‘handled with care’.
“Such a massive amount is still parked abroad despite the amnesty scheme?” Chief Justice Nisar asked those present in the courtroom.
State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Tariq Bajwa briefed the judges about the measures taken to recover the identified funds, saying: “Notices have been issued to the 125 people who have assets in the UAE. If they write on affidavits that they do have assets outside of Pakistan, we will interrogate and tax them. But if they deny that, then we can take the help of the UAE government and ask them to take action in accordance with benami properties law.”
The SBP governor said that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other agencies’ assistance had also been sought. To this, the CJP remarked that those concealing their assets abroad qualify for money laundering trials.
Shabbar Zaidi, the audit firm’s chief, told the court that wealth is transferred outside Pakistan via two channels: “Havala and banking routes”.
As regards the latter, he said: “Funds are moved abroad by showing it as agricultural income.”
At this, Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked the SBP governor if a ban has been placed on transferring foreign exchange outside Pakistan.
“Only a sum of $10,000 is permitted to be taken outside of Pakistan,” Bajwa said.
The SBP governor further said that a separate list of 225 Pakistani nationals who have properties in London has also been obtained.
“The Amnesty Scheme set a two per cent tax which was very less. Indonesia has set a 17 per cent tax hence the scheme has been successful there. According to the report, nearly eight billion dollars worth of property has been declared,” observed Justice Bandial.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Mansoor Ali Khan assured the court that the new government is “serious about bringing back the money”.
“A task force has been formed under the PM’s stewardship,” the attorney general said. “The government wants the apex court to provide guidance in this regard.”
The apex court then instructed that a list of names who have been given the notice be presented to it in a sealed envelope.
“If these names are disclosed, the FBR and SC registrar will be held responsible,” the bench remarked.
The hearing has been adjourned till September 5.
It is pertinent to mention Pakistan, being a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) after it joined the organisation a few months back, can exchange financial data of a person with other member countries to monitor and track instances of money laundering.
Not only the information of current accounts can be obtained, data can also be sought of accounts held by a specific person which have been closed.