Offshore assets: Taskforce may suggest forming a special unit

Institutionalise mechanism to retrieve money stashed abroad being worked out

Shahbaz Rana September 05, 2018
The Supreme Court-constituted committee is also working on the same lines, which has raised the issue of duplication of activities. PHOTO:FILE

ISLAMABAD: The prime minister’s taskforce on retrieval of offshore hidden assets could propose setting up an Assets Recovery Unit to institutionalise a mechanism for bringing the wealth back from abroad, as chances of an early success are very low.

In its second meeting held on Tuesday, the taskforce finalised the terms of references (ToRs) of the Asset Recovery Unit, said officials privy to the meeting’s proceedings.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar chaired the meeting.

Akbar is spearheading the government-led efforts to bring offshore assets back. The judiciary is also separately supervising the process and has established a committee of government departments to suggest a way forward.

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The apex court on Monday directed the government to present a report on efforts it was making to recover the wealth, which is presumably stashed abroad. It has been making efforts for the last six months but without success.

The draft of the ToRs of the Asset Recovery Unit will be vetted by the attorney general of Pakistan before it is presented to the Supreme Court.

Akbar is also scheduled to make a presentation to the federal cabinet today (Wednesday) on his action plan to recover the wealth.

The prime minister has declared retrieval of the hidden offshore assets as his topmost priority. Although no confirm estimates of the value of the offshore assets are available, various reports put it in the range of $150 billion to $200 billion.

From the ToRs it appeared that the prime minister wants the taskforce to give recommendations within two weeks for the steps to be taken for expedient return of unlawfully acquired assets from abroad.

However, the Supreme Court-constituted committee is also working on the same lines, which has raised the issue of duplication of activities.

The committee on Saturday suggested setting up Joint Taskforce (JTF) comprising representatives of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and other agencies.

The sources said the taskforce also wanted to set up the Asset Recovery Unit that will comprise officials from NAB, the FBR, the State Bank of Pakistan, the FIA and a member from the private sector.

It is possible that the efforts made by both the executive and judiciary may be consolidated under one arrangement aimed at ensuring better coordination and effective utilisation of human resources.

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The proposed unit’s ToRs -- include obtaining information through bilateral and multilateral exchange of information agreements and initiating legal proceedings against the suspected persons -- said the sources.

The unit will require special budget to meet its expenditures and it will be housed in the Prime Minister’s office. The nature of work requires a long-term institutional arrangement, as it may take at least one to two years to recover the untaxed and ill-gotten money, the source said.

They said the taskforce can only work for a limited period; therefore, an institutional arrangement is needed to deal with the foreign jurisdictions. Supreme Court’s direction on having an institutionalised arrangement could strengthen the government’s hands to go after the big fish, they added.

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