BY Zahid Gishkori
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani investigators with the cooperation of Dubai authorities have traced 2,750 overseas properties in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
These overseas property empires were allegedly acquired by Pakistani nationals with illegal flight of capital and plunder of the hard-earned taxpayers’ money worth around Rs4,240 billion. Based on three intelligence reports, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) have started crackdown against around 5,000 super rich Pakistanis who allegedly violated the national laws to acquire these properties in the UAE.
“Lately, the FIA’s cyber-crime wing through its cyber-intelligence has deciphered Pakistani owners identities of 1,467 properties in Dubai, UAE and the findings are being transmitted to zones/field offices for initiating inquiries,” revealed a confidential report jointly prepared by the SBP and FIA. jointly prepared by the SBP and FIA.
“The FIA’s anti-corruption wing has instituted 54 criminal inquiries (Foreign Assets Declaration Regulations 1972) against 662 (out of 3,549 property holders, list already submitted to this August Court vide its report dated 14th March, 2018) with complete particulars — however they were stalled due to non-provision of record by the real estate regulatory agency of Dubai Land Department and subsequently by the tax amnesty scheme 2018, regulated by Foreign Assets (Declaration and Repatriation) Ordinance, 2018. However, the inquiries have been re-initiated,” revealed the report Geo News has exclusively access to.
“The FIA’s anti-corruption wing has instituted further criminal inquiries last week (Foreign Assets Declaration Regulations 1972) against 621 UAE properties discovered through a second source report,” the confidential report further stated.
Investigators in their confidential report revealed: “FIA has till date, taken cognisance of 2,750 undisclosed properties (apartments etc.) of Pakistani nationals held in the UAE on various names and inquiries are underway — if each property is valued at a conservative estimate of Rs40 million each (average), the value of UAE assets under inquiry with FIA comes to Rs110 billion, which is only 2.5 percent of Rs4,240 billion — the value of officially known assets of Pakistanis in UAE.”
A deep dive into the records of real estate regulatory agency of Dubai Land Department will be required to fathom the true magnitude of assets held in the UAE, investigators further stated.
Officials of the FBR, FIA and SBP, in their findings, further said that Ahmer Bilal Sufi (as amicus curiae) has drafted Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) Rules which, once approved by Supreme Court and the government, will enable the FIA to initiate MLA requests to key foreign jurisdictions (top money-laundering destinations) and help Pakistan in foreign assets recovery (track, freeze and repatriate) of foreign assets and accounts, especially those linked to corruption, kick-backs and money laundering etc.
The report continued to reveal that an estimated, over $150 billion is stashed in foreign properties belonging to Pakistanis, as per private sector estimates (according to Shabbar Zaidi of AF Ferguson). Dubai properties investment volume (2015/16 Dubai official) remained AED135 billion (Rs4240 billion) and $34 billion, stated the report revealing that annual investment growth witnessed AED7 billion + (Rs220 billion). The report further indicated the UAE as top tax havens while Pakistanis parked around $100 billion in UK, US and Europe. The report also stated that Switzerland has $200 billion of Pakistanis as per statement of Micheline Calmy-Rey/Swiss Foreign Minister in 2014. By the close of Amnesty Scheme 2018, on 31st July 2018, declarations from 5,363 entities (individuals/Co.’s) had disclosed foreign assets worth Rs1,003 billion ($8.1 billion), with major share of declared assets located in UAE, revealed the report. Properties/accounts holders in other tax-haven countries benefitted only marginally from this scheme, added the report. It has been recommended to the governor SBP that the scope and terms of reference (ToRs) of the standing committee constituted under the directions of the apex court should be expanded.
The scope should not be limited to the information regarding properties of Pakistanis in the UAE and UK, rather it should be expanded. The British government has listed Pakistan among top three money laundering source countries, after Nigeria and Russia. It is imperative that this standing committee makes an assessment of the total Pakistani money stashed in foreign assets and accounts, recommended the report.
The ToRs of the standing committee may be expanded. A special authority invested in the standing committee to act as designated authority in Pakistan under UNCAC and other bilateral and multilateral instruments, so that investigators can seek information regarding foreign properties and accounts of all Pakistani persons of interest in any tax haven or foreign jurisdiction. The report also indicated reasons for poor control over money laundering and difficulties in ongoing investigation. The difficulties include: a) weak legislative instruments (domestic) and foreign assets declaration regulation, 1972 does not authorise FIA to investigate this matter, b) Income Tax Ordinance 2001, Section 111-(4) protects sources of unexplained income from foreign remittance, c) Pakistan Economic Reforms Act 1992, Sections 4 and 5 also protects sources of unexplained income from foreign remittance, d) The FIA has no authority to operate with United Nations’ Convention against Corruption 2004 and United Nations’ Convention against Trans-national Organised Crime 2000. Finally, report also pointed out some essential investigation tools where FIA officials said that the authority is constrained to writing letters for seeking simple information from electronic databases, available in the national jurisdiction namely FBR’s IRIS and PRAL databases, SECP’s Co./directors/share-holders databank, Financial Monitoring Unit’s databank on CTRs and STRs, telecom companies IPDR database, IMPASS passports’ database and revenue departments’/development authorities property database. The FIA is willing to share its IBMS Travel History Databank (175 million travel events completely captured) with other investigation agencies/financial institutions on a reciprocal basis, but the FIA should not be crippled by denting access to national databases for criminal inquiries, added the report.