ISLAMABAD: Political arch-rivals — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan — have consulted the same audit firm for tax advice in the backdrop of the Panama Papers case that the Supreme Court of Pakistan is currently adjudicating.
The top court’s five-judge bench is currently hearing a slew of petitions filed in the wake of the Panama Papers, which in April revealed that Premier Sharif’s three children owned offshore companies in international tax havens.
While some of the petitions seek the PM’s disqualification, a case filed by PML-N’s Hanif Abbasi also seeks disqualification of the PTI chief on allegations of misconduct, financial irregularity and violation of the Income Tax and Public Representative Laws.
A top chartered accountancy firm, AF Ferguson, which first helped the prime minister in a delicate tax matter, has now given its opinion on tax and accountancy matters to Imran, sources as well as correspondence between the company’s officials revealed. Both these cases are different but they have their roots in Panama Papers.
On the basis of AF Ferguson’s input, Imran’s lawyer Naeem Bukhari submitted a reply in the Supreme Court on Nov 29 in the case filed by Abbasi. A three-judge SC bench heard the case on Nov 30 and adjourned it indefinitely.
The company’s partners gave their input to Bukhari on all tax matters raised by the PML-N leader. This situation raises ethical and professional issues as the company has also given its opinion in favour of PM Nawaz in a different case.
A senior partner at AF Ferguson told The Express Tribune that the company was not advising Imran.
He said people do approach and take opinions from the company on important matters as it is the number one company of Pakistan. “The PTI had approached the company in a tax matter but we declined,” he said, adding that AF Ferguson could not take political cases.
However, the correspondence seen by The Express Tribune showed that the AF Ferguson did give the PTI input on tax and accounting matters that the PTI Lawyer submitted in the apex court. It gave input on the allegation related to Imran’s tax matters while leaving legal aspects on the PTI legal team.
The response of the PTI’s spokesman Fawad Chaudhry was awaited till the filing of the story.
It is a politically motivated case, as admitted by Hanif Abbasi during an interview to a private news channel, aired on Sunday. Abbasi told the channel that he filed the case against Imran due to his allegations against his party’s chief Nawaz Sharif.
Both the parties filed petitions in the apex court against the top leadership of each other. The political pressure compelled the ruling party to unearth an offshore company owned by Imran Khan.
Early last month, the Ferguson & Co had stated that there were no discrepancies between the tax returns of the prime minister and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif. In its report, the audit firm said the opposition’s criticism in the plot purchase issue was baseless.
According to the report, the tax returns filed by the PM and his daughter were in accordance with the law and had no discrepancies. It further said that Maryam Nawaz’s name was not registered as a dependent person in the tax returns.
Abbasi has alleged that Imran Khan had willfully concealed his investment of Rs2.97 million for the purchase of a luxury apartment in M/s Grand Hyatt located at 1 Constitution Avenue, Islamabad, in his declaration of assets for tax year 2014, furnished by him to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
On advice of the Ferguson, Imran submitted the reply that the allegation has been levelled without fully appreciating the facts. On the allegations of understating income and expenditures, the PTI said Imran is a taxpayer for over three decades and has sufficient and lawful resources to pay the cost of living.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2016.