KARACHI: To the wonder of many, the Federal Investigation Agency, on the directives of the Supreme Court, recently compiled a list of Pakistanis who own property in the UAE. The list doesn't carry the name of a single politician, despite the widely-held belief that they are deeply entrenched in the real estate market of the Arab monarchy, sources and officials said.
Interestingly, they said, the list finalised by the FIA and available with The Express Tribune, only has the names of some 1,500 businessmen and prominent Pakistanis. The FIA's exercise came as a surprise for many who are not sure whether the federal probe body's move is a deliberate attempt to keep politicians safe from the apex court's wrath, or a half-hearted endeavour to dig out the facts.
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Many believe that the non-serious, ill-intentioned and non-professional approach of the FIA could hit the prospects of investigations against those Pakistanis who own property in the UAE – the job was assigned to junior officers and seemingly ignored politicians and senior bureaucrats, while only targeting businessmen.
Sources and officials privy to the development said hundreds of Pakistani businessmen faced threats of investigations into their real estate assets in the UAE. The FIA only relaunched its investigation after three-year break on the directives of the Supreme Court, and so far, 'progress' by the agency, led by senior police officer Bashir Memon, doesn't show any bright prospects.
"In 2015, FIA Karachi launched an investigation into reports about the properties of Pakistanis in UAE, which were found from some real estate dealers, so that capital and foreign exchange flight from the country could be checked," said a source citing the history of the investigation. "For that, FIR 28/2015 was lodged with the FIA Crime Circle, which initially led to findings about 50 Pakistani businessmen, and later the figure came to 100 Pakistani businessmen who owned real estate in the UAE."
The FIA initiated the probe on a point that according to Foreign Assets Declaration Act 1972, a Pakistani must apprise the State Bank of Pakistani while buying any property outside the country. However, he said, the SBP data showed that no Pakistani had ever provided the banking regulator with any such information.
"The FIA also approached the UAE authorities through the foreign ministry, but it has not received any response during the past three years," said the source. "That was the point where the FIA investigation came to a standstill. Memon, after assuming charge as FIA DG, vowed to relaunch the investigation into UAE properties, but he also couldn't do so. In the meantime, the Supreme Court took notice and ordered a fresh investigation into the matter," sources said.
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They added that during this period, the number of Pakistanis who owned property in the UAE rose to 4,000, but the final list only has between 1,200 to 1,500 names, even after it was updated through information gathered from different sources.
The business community has expressed serious concerns over the FIA sending notices to businessmen. They claim that such an approach – targeting only the key contributor to the national economy – would shake investor confidence and dent the business culture in the country.
"There is no secret that our politicians have significant property holdings in the UK, USA, and the UAE," former Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) president Haroon Agar said while talking to The Express Tribune. "Key leaders of all political parties own properties in foreign countries, and it is unfortunate that action in the name of accountability is only initiated against the business community because they are easy targets. It never ends. After years of stress and illegal tactics, cases are put on hold through underhand deals."
He claimed businessmen were the highest taxpayers of the country, while politicians were openly blamed for corruption and stealing national money to build assets outside the country. But despite this fact, he said, the FIA was focusing only on the business community while investigating the case.
"In the past, we have seen that the FIA only targeted the business community, such as in hawala and hundi cases. It's regrettable that an institution of national stature like FIA exploits such cases and inquiries and its officials turn such probes into bargaining chips to mint money through illegal means," Agar added.