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Tuesday Feb 06 2018

Over 7,000 Pakistanis illegally purchased properties worth Rs1.1 trillion in Dubai

According to confidential documents available with Geo News, more than 7,000 super-rich Pakistanis bought luxury residential villas, flats, and estates in 12 renowned localities in Dubai.

ISLAMABAD: It appears that Pakistan's super rich have made merry in one of the world’s luxury capitals, away from the prying eyes of their compatriots. The physical distance has long seemed to work.

For the first time, Geo News can disclose that Pakistanis have bought properties worth an estimated Rs1.1 trillion in the heart of Dubai in the past one-and-a half-decade. Interestingly, the majority of them did not mention these properties in their annual returns and were said to be moving their assets out of the country to avoid being caught in the event of a serious crackdown on this unaccounted for money.

According to confidential documents available with Geo News, more than 7,000 super-rich Pakistanis bought luxury residential villas, flats, and estates in 12 renowned localities in the Emirati capital. The documents contain particulars of some 34,000 rich families from 118 countries in all.

Such is the spending spree of these wealthy Pakistanis that they have become the biggest overseas property buyers in Dubai — leaving behind even investors from India, the United States, Britain, and the rest of the world — thanks to the Rs1.1 trillion they shelled out for these properties.

This list of the who's who includes politicians, some of whom are members of the Parliament, retired generals, former judges, real estate tycoons, businesspersons, bureaucrats, lawyers, actors, singers, and a few media personalities.

The startling revelations come at a time when the country's top court has directed the State Bank of Pakistan, The Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the Intelligence Bureau, Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, the Foreign Office and the Federal Investigative Authority to share their information about foreign bank accounts and foreign assets held by Pakistani citizens.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) did not officially comment on the issue, restricting themselves to saying, "The Foreign Assets' (Declaration) Regulation, 1972 was blatantly violated by such investors and not one of them has reported his/her foreign investments before the SBP."

An overwhelming majority never disclosed their foreign offshore wealth, thus violating declaration laws governing foreign assets. The authorities admit that a now-dormant investigation by FIA was able to trace only 100 investors in the past two-and-a-half years. The regulators — FBR, FIA, SECP and SBP — failed to question the legitimacy of the transfer of funds to buy those properties and no action has been taken yet.

Based on investigations over the past four months both in Pakistan and Dubai by this correspondent for Geo News show Aaj Shahzaib Khanzada Ke Sath, an estimated 5,000 Pakistanis bought properties in their names since 2002 while around 2,000 Pakistani nationals owned properties as 'benamis'. Nearly 5,600 Indians, 887 Canadians, 799 Americans, 400 Britons, 194 Afghans, 332 Australians and 83 New Zealanders also splurged on the high-end property market. The rest came from the 113 countries.

Pakistanis bought over 967 villas or residential properties in luxury areas of Greens; 75 precious flats in Emirates Hills; 165 properties in Discovery Garden (residential and commercial); 167 flats in Jumeirah Island; 123 residential properties in Jumeirah Park; 245 plush flats in Jumeirah Village; 10 properties in Palm Deira; 160 in Palm Jabel Ali; 25 properties in Palm Juemirah Shorelines; 234 properties in International City; and 230 in Dubai Cilicon.

The rest of the properties were bought elsewhere in Dubai. Around 200 Pakistanis holding Canadian citizenship, 50 with Australian nationality, and four Pakistanis holding New Zealand citizenship own residential properties in Dubai.

The base price (lowest value units) of a property in Dubai market is AED1 million and upper-end properties were worth as much as AED15 million, according to some recognised property consultants in Dubai. They claim that the estimated value of 7,000 properties owned by Pakistanis in Dubai totals AED35 billion (approximately, US$9.529 billion or Pakistani Rs1.004 trillion).

For evaluation purposes, the properties were broadly divided into four categories. Understanding that upper-end properties are lesser in number, the valuation estimates were calculated as 10% high-end properties (700 units) at AED15,000,000 each; 20% upper-mid-level properties (1,400 units) at AED10,000,000 each; 20% mid-level value properties (1,400 units) at AED5,000,000 each, and 50% lowest value properties (3,500 units) at AED1,000,000 each.

Despite repeated requests officially delivered to them by Geo News, the FBR, SBP, and FIA chose to remain silent on the issue. This correspondent made repeated requests via emails, WhatsApp, and text messages to 1,200 prominent Pakistanis who own properties in Dubai, out of which only eight buyers responded in the past three weeks.

Similarly, neither the Pakistan mission in UAE nor the Dubai Land Department responded to queries made by Geo News. This correspondent met more than two dozen concerned officials of the FBR, SBP, and FIA in Pakistan and a number of Pakistanis and property consultants in Dubai.

The said authorities, however, admitted that a large number of Pakistani citizens were found in possession of properties such as luxurious flats, apartments, and other valuable properties worth billions of rupees and the funds were transferred to UAE through illegal channels in violation of Foreign Assets' Declaration Regulations 1972 and the rules and regulations of SBP.

"The FIA wrote to (the) Pak(istani) Mission in Dubai on Aug 17, 2015 but no response (has been) received yet. A letter was also written to Dubai authorities through Ministry of Foreign Affairs but no response was received. FIA sought details of Pakistani citizens who purchased properties in foreign countries and declared the same before the SBP w.e.f 1990 till to 2017. SBP officially informed FIA through a letter written on Sep 23, 2015 that no Pakistani citizen intimated about his/her belongings of immoveable properties outside Pakistan under the provision of foreign assets (declaration)," revealed a senior official of FIA overseeing progress on this case.

He conjectured that funds invested in properties in the UAE and other countries have mostly been transferred through 'hundi' and 'hawala' networks and thus no money trail can be found for such transactions. Foreign tax administrations were also not cooperating in furnishing full particulars of Pakistani owners of properties within their territorial jurisdiction to Pakistani tax authorities, he added.

All such persons or individuals who have acquired properties abroad and have not reported those in their wealth statements filed with FBR can be prosecuted criminally under Sections 192 and 192-A of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 in addition to other penal provisions of the said ordinance. They are also in violation of the provisions of Anti Money Laundering Act for having reportedly channeled their (mostly ill-gotten) money abroad through illegal instruments such as 'hundi' and 'hawala'.

The Foreign Assets' Declaration Law reads: “Any person who owns any moveable or immoveable properties, not being foreign exchange, in any country other than Pakistan, shall declare before SBP its description and value and the income derived from it. It [Law] shall all apply to all citizens of Pakistan i.e. any person employed in any capacity in foreign country or a wage earner residing in a foreign country.”

Speaking in the Geo News programme 'Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada kay Sath', Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Miftah Ismail said a person bringing dollars to Pakistan neither paid any tax nor could be questioned by the FBR.

According to Miftah, people first send money abroad Hawala and later whiten that through amnesty scheme. But the government wants to bring a new scheme through the practice.

Miftah said the government wanted to introduce an amnesty scheme during the current tenure. Actually, it would be wrong to describe it an amnesty scheme as they were going to end the amnesty scheme, Miftah said.

He said their objective was to bring a scheme to encourage the Pakistanis to invest in the country and give a chance for regularising the money to those having assets in or outside the country.

Tax expert Shabbar Zaidi said no amnesty scheme for foreign assets had ever been given in Pakistan, adding that the new initiative would be different from the previous ones because of being comprehensive to settle the international issues.

He said given the changes at international level, it was essential for the Pakistanis to declare their foreign assets to protect themselves and their wealth. People must understand that it was an international issue, not local, Zaidi stressed.

Originally published in The News

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