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May 8, 2019

A major U-turn in the offing

Top Story

May 8, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The upcoming amnesty scheme of the PTI government will make the much trumpeted Assets Recovery Unit of the government redundant besides dashing hopes built by the ruling party for bringing back hidden US$200 billion from overseas.

As the government is all set to announce amnesty scheme to encourage Pakistanis to declare their hidden and untaxed wealth held both within the country and offshore, this initiative will directly hit the purpose for which the Assets Recovery Unit of the government was established by the Imran Khan government.

Official sources said that the Imran Khan government has now realized that what it had promised about the bringing back of looted $200 billion from abroad is an impossible task.

Not only that the PTI government could not find any credibility in the much quoted $200 b figure that was said to be stashed in offshore accounts, it has also understood finally that it can’t even recover the $9 billion wealth that the Assets Recovery Unit claimed to have identified in foreign countries.

The amnesty scheme, which is being finalized and is expected to be announced in the near future, will allow all Pakistanis to declare their un-taxed or hidden wealth by depositing a nominal percentage of their declared wealth. The PTI government, which had set its eye on $200 billion (Rs28,400 billion), is now expecting mere Rs175 billion revenue from its amnesty schemeAlthough, the Assets Recovery Unit has failed to recover even $20 million (what to talk of $200 billion) so far, its probe regarding the identification of undeclared assets would help the government amnesty scheme to document many of the assets/ wealth being identified by the Unit.

Soon after coming into power, the PTI government had established Asset Recovery Unit to retrieve assets hidden overseas. The Unit comprises of officials from the State Bank of Pakistan, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency and intelligence agencies.

In one of his initial press conferences, head of the Unit and PM’s advisor on accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar had said that members of the ARU had already got details of over 10,000 properties in Dubai and England. He had complained that details of at least half of the 10,000 properties were previously available but no action was taken.

Notices were also issued to hundreds of properties from the list but the Unit so far recovered less than a billion rupee. A few months back, it was reported that Rs530 million, which was illegally sent abroad, was recovered by the government through its Assets Recovery Unit (ARU).

Now the authorities also admit that if it is not impossible then really difficult to recover and bring back the hidden assets identified overseas. Under the international conventions, after a lot of efforts if any overseas hidden wealth is discovered and pursued with the host government, the most Pakistan can get it the payable tax amount.

For the same reasons, the PTI which has been showing its abhorrence in the past against amnesty schemes is now launching one of its own to document the untaxed/ hidden wealth. According to a source following the amnesty scheme, the Assets Recovery Unit if is allowed to continue may focus on cases of politically exposed persons particularly belonging to the opposition parties.

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