LAHORE - Federal Investigation Agency Director General Bashir Ahmed Memon Tuesday told the Supreme Court that Pakistanis had invested AED 4,240 billion in UAE and identified 635 properties owned by them.

Bashir Ahmed Memon appeared before the three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, which is hearing the case of foreign assets and accounts of Pakistanis in foreign countries.

State Bank of Pakistan Governor Tariq Bajwa and Federal Finance Secretary Arif Ahmad Khan also appeared before the bench in compliance with the Supreme Court’s orders. The CJP had taken suo motu notice of the matter.

Submitting a report before the bench, the FIA DG said he had names, telephone numbers and addresses of all those who had made investment in the UAE. “The inquiry is still underway and we have also started criminal investigation against the suspects,” the FIA DG told the court.

Federal Finance Secretary Arif Ahmad Khan informed the court that total debt of the country, both foreign and domestic, had reached Rs 24.3 trillion. He said $ 8 trillion were taken as the foreign debt and Rs 16 trillion borrowed from the local banks and other sources during the last six years.

“We are facing a vicious circle,” said the finance secretary, hopelessness to deal with the challenge of foreign and the local debt was evident from his countenance.

CJP Mian Saqib Nisar expressed serious concerns over the situation and asked the finance secretary how the country could come out of this circle. “We have attached all hopes to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). No drinking water is there in Gwadar while foreign remittances have also come down remarkably.”

The finance secretary seconded the concern of the chief justice, saying everyone has attached high hopes to the CPEC, but only the foundational work has o far been done on the project. He pointed out that there is a deficit of 16 billion dollars to 17 billion dollars which could only be met through foreign debt. “We are living far beyond our means,” regretted the finance secretary.

The chief justice asked him how this challenging situation could be dealt with. The secretary said the volume of the national economy is $350 billion at present and could be boosted by expanding tax collection, relying more on local sources. He said at present Rs 1 trillion was allocated for development and Rs 2 trillion were borrowed, a situation in which the economy was hard to progress.

FIA DG Bashir Ahmad Memon pointed out that the investigation of bank accounts of the citizens living abroad is not possible, the major hurdle being absence of mutual agreements with other countries. He said Pakistan had agreement with some countries only about corruption, but no other treaties/agreements had been made to deal with such issues.

“If I go to Dubai and ask the authorities there what properties Pakistanis citizens have in your country. Nobody will tell us about their accounts,” the officer expressed his inability to expand the circle of investigation into the money flown out of the country.

“The properties I have referred to are owned by Pakistanis only in UAE. I don’t know about the other countries and the magnitude of the assets owned by Pakistanis there,” the officer told the bench. He also suggested the formation of a task force to trace the flow of the public money to other countries.

The chief justice asked him to give him in writing if there was a need of any task force. The CJP also expressed dissatisfaction over the terms of references made for the 12-member committee constituted to probe the flow of money from Pakistan to other countries, assets and accounts abroad of Pakistanis.

“You can come out of these ToRs,” the top judge remarked while addressing SBP Governor Tariq Bajwa. “Tariq Bajwa, you have to do this. It is the matter of country’s survival. We can’t make laws. Talk to those who can help in this regard. We give you one month.”

Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the other member of the bench, said they should tell what support the court could give them. Justice Bandial said tax net had already been widened. “Agriculture is also paying tax now,” he said. “Are you trying to improve the productivity?”

During the proceedings, the CJP asked senior lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan if he would like to suggest something to deal with the situation. Pakistan, Aitzaz said, is the only country whose industry is sick while the owners have luxury cars in their garages. “We have eaten up the livelihood of our five generations. Other than that we have done nothing,” said the lawyer who is also the top leader of PPP.

The chief justice asked him what he had done as a parliamentarian. Aitzaz said the situation was under control till 80s, but in the 90s the economy’s fall began. In his opinion, the laws made for the economy were poor.

Muhammad Ali Durrani, a former information minister, told the court there is a very strong perception that no powerful person could be brought to justice. He said time has come to change the situation. “I’m just seeing NROs and amnesty schemes (through newspapers),” said Durrani, criticising both the ideas.

The SBP governor’s remarks are reflective of the loose controls. He said if anyone wants to take 100,000 dollars abroad, nobody can hold him accountable. “It is surprising why the successive governments could not work on these issues”.

The SBG governor said they had made a law to control the smuggling of foreign currency and now nobody could take money even from Lahore to Islamabad. Such laws are there in foreign countries.

“Could the people involved in illegal transfer of money abroad be identified?” the CJP asked the SBP governor. The FBR DG said a treaty will be implemented in September this year through which they will be able to know about the foreign accounts of Pakistani citizens. “Is Switzerland included in those countries?” the CJP asked. The FBR chairman replied that a separate treaty was being carried out with Switzerland. “The entire nation just wants to know how the money was taken out of the country,” CJP Nisar said. The FBR chief said amnesty scheme has been started to bring such money back to Pakistan. However, he said people are afraid of the Supreme Court.

The bench made it clear that the court had no objection to the amnesty scheme and gave one month to the committee to come up with suggestions on how the flow of the money through smuggling (Hawala, Hundi), could be stopped and how the money invested in foreign countries or kept in the foreign accounts be brought back.

The court adjourned hearing for a month, affirming Bashir Ahmad Mehmon would continue to serve as the FIA DG till the conclusion of the investigation.