Dubai Unlocked — Dubai Leaks exposing the mighty in Pakistan

—- Startling Revelations — Pakistan’s multi-billion dollar property in Dubai

—- Zardaris, Sharifs, Gen Bajwa’s and Mohsin Naqvi families are among those having properties in Dubai

—  Leaked property data includes over 23,000 properties belonging to Pakistanis

Dubai Unlocked --- Dubai Leaks exposing the mighty in Pakistan

By Raza Ruman

 Dawn and other other journalists have unveiled Pakistanis and other mighty rich of the world who have multi billion dollars properties in Dubai after a six-month-long investigation.

   Prominent names include the children of President Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari; wife of Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi, Ms Ashraf; Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon; MNA Ikhtiar Baig; son of PML-N president Nawaz Sharif, Hussain Nawaz; son of retired General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Saad Siddique Bajwa; Senator Faisal Vawda, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, Akhtar Mengal and PML-N MNA Ehsanul Haq Bajwa.

  “The property data at the heart of the project comes from a series of leaks of more than 100 datasets. Most of the data comes from the Dubai Land Department, as well as publicly owned utility companies. The data includes the listed owner of each property, as well as other identifying information such as his or her date of birth, passport number, and nationality. In some cases, the data captured renters instead of owners,” Dawn reports.

     It says journalists used the data as a starting point to explore the landscape of foreign property ownership in Dubai. They spent months verifying the identities of the people who appeared in the leaked data, as well as confirming their ownership status, using official records, open source research, and other leaked datasets. They identified many Dubai property owners whose presence in the emirate is in the public interest to report on, including people who have been accused or convicted of crimes, face international sanctions, or are politically exposed persons (PEPs).

     Officials in Pakistan have tried in recent years to unearth details of Pakistani citizens who own assets in Dubai with an aim to bring undeclared assets and income into the tax net. But they have made little headway.

    “Dubai authorities are reluctant to share information about something as simple as the number of Pakistani citizens with Dubai residence visas, commonly known as iqamas or Emirates IDs. There is also a political element to the stonewalling: Pakistan doesn’t have the geopolitical clout to demand this information,” Dawn reports.

    “Today, those details — an astounding volume of leaked property data that includes over 23,000 properties listed as belonging to Pakistani nationals up to the spring of 2022 — are at the fingertips of journalists from scores of media outlets around the world.

   The leaked data provides a detailed overview of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, largely from 2020 and 2022. It was obtained by the Center for Advanced Defence Studies (C4ADS), a non-profit organisation based in Washington, D.C., that researches international crime and conflict,” it says.

    It was then shared with Norwegian financial outlet E24 and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which coordinated an investigative project with media outlets from around the world. Titled ‘Dubai Unlocked’, the collaboration includes 74 partners from 58 countries. Dawn is part of that collaboration.

    “A mere mention in the data is not evidence in itself of financial crime or tax fraud. Nor does the data contain information such as residence status, sources of income, tax declarations of rental income or capital gains. In fact, several of those approached by Dawn for comment on their properties said they were declared to the tax authorities,” the paper says.

    But it does paint an astonishing picture of contrasts. Pakistan, a developing country teetering on the edge of economic collapse, begging international lenders and friendly countries for lifelines in single digit billions, features prominently in the data.

    “While 17,000 Pakistani citizens are listed owners in the 2022 leak, academics using the data and additional sources put the actual number of Pakistani owners of residential property in Dubai at 22,000. They further estimate that the apartments and villas may have been worth more than $10 billion at the start of 2022, but with the more than 25 per cent increase in property prices over the last two years, the real worth of Pakistanis’ residential properties in Dubai could now be well above $12.5bn.”

   Many of the properties linked to the above mentioned individuals have been declared.“If we have the data you are talking about, as well as the information on residence status, we will make sure those who are eligible to pay tax in Pakistan on rental income or capital value are doing so,” Malik Amjed Zubair Tiwana, chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) tells Dawn. “It may be a sensitive matter, and perhaps the law will have to change, but with political will we will go all out against tax evaders. The government is prepared for this.”

He added that “citizenship has no importance in tax law” as taxation is linked to residence status. “We have been trying to get information from the immigration department of Dubai to determine tax status, but it has not materialised.”

Ali Rahim, tax lawyer and former Karachi Tax Bar Association president, explains how tax laws apply to Pakistanis with overseas assets. “The entire world income of resident Pakistanis is liable to be taxed in Pakistan, but they can get credit against their total tax payment for any taxes paid abroad.”

“Pakistani residents (those in the country for more than 183 days per year) with assets abroad have to value them at the current exchange rate and pay one per cent tax on that if the value of the asset is more than Rs100 million. This law is being challenged in the high courts and the Supreme Court,” Dawn reports.

Non-resident or overseas Pakistanis are only liable to pay tax on income generated in Pakistan. They are not required to file a wealth statement or declare overseas assets.

   Dawn says more detail to follow in series of “Dubai Unlocked” stories. PAK DESTINY

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