ISLAMABAD: A Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) report attached with the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa contradicts federal government attorney Dr Farogh Naseem’s claim before the apex court last week that the tax collection body was “scared” to proceed against the SC judge and his family.
On May 10 last year, FBR Inland Revenue Assistant Commissioner Zia Ahmed Butt had submitted an inquiry report on a complaint about undeclared assets of certain members of the superior judiciary.
In the case of Justice Isa, who faces allegations of hiding the foreign assets of his family, the report read that the judge was liable to declare three properties as per the provision of Section 116 (1) (b) which mandates every taxpayer to file the wealth statement in a prescribed format declaring therein "the total assets and liabilities of the persons and his spouse, minor and other dependents".
It was further stated that the judge’s wife Sarina Isa, his daughter Sehar Isa and son Arsalan Isa had also not declared these properties as they did not file their tax declarations for the tax years from 2014 to 2018.
Interestingly, the report concluded that "tax proceedings have been initiated in accordance with law".
However, instead of completing the tax proceedings, the federal government on May 23 last year filed a presidential reference in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) against Justice Isa.
The FBR report stated that the SC judge had not declared three offshore properties owned by his wife and children.
However, the government in its reference did not claim that these were offshore properties. Even their record is available with the UK land registry.
A 10-judge full court led by Justice Umar Ata Bandial is consistently asking the federal government to explain why tax proceedings were not initiated over the undeclared properties.
However, the federal government counsel maintained that FBR officials were scared to proceed against Justice Isa’s family members.
He further claimed that FBR officials had refused to act and offered their resignation.
Likewise, the court also wondered that instead of referring the matter to the tax authorities, who flouted this idea to file a reference against a judge.
A member of the bench described the filing of the reference over the matter as a “serious error”.
The federal government in the presidential reference accused Justice Isa for violating section 116 (1) (b) of the Income Tax law. But the SC judge’s legal team led by Muneer A Malik successfully countered the contention stating that the petitioner was not bound to disclose the properties of his family members who were independent and tax filers.
During the hearing of the case, Justice Bandial noted that undeclared foreign property came under the purview of the tax law, and asked Dr Naseem to explain the “legal obligation” on the basis of which Justice Isa was bound to disclose his family properties.
He further observed that tax violation did not come under the purview of Article 209 of the Constitution -- which pertains to action against a judge when he has been found guilty of misconduct.
It has also been learnt that Justice Isa’s wife submitted her tax returns in the last week of January. However, the FBR did not ask her about her source of income for the purchase of the undeclared properties.
A senior lawyer has recommended that the federal government should withdraw the reference now on the grounds that the matter had been referred to the FBR. If the revenue body finds anything against judge and his family, the government will have the option to file a fresh reference against him.
A section within the federal government has started advocating the idea of withdrawing the presidential reference against Justice Isa to avoid any “dreadful consequences”.
Sources said Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan was not hopeful about the reference’s sustainability in view of the judges’ observations. The AGP conveys his opinion to the relevant quarters, especially the prime minister, after each hearing of the case.
However, a federal cabinet member told The Express Tribune that there were no chances of withdrawing the reference.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan is insisting that if he could provide the money trail of his London flat, then should an SC judge be spared,” he revealed.
“The prime minister is not concerned about the consequences in case the presidential reference is quashed.”
Senior PTI lawyers believe that the government’s legal team is not conveying the gravity of the situation to the premier.