Details of 31 Pakistani investors in real-estate in Dubai

ICMD, Feb 15, 2018 The United Arab Emirates (UAE) government Thursday confirmed the details of 31 wealthy Pakistanis who own over 55 properties worth around Rs60 billion in the heart of Dubai. The revelation comes weeks after Pakistan shared details with the UAE authorities of the individuals who had allegedly invested in real estate in Dubai. The Economic Crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had requested the Ministry of Finance of UAE for the exchange of information about rich Pakistanis on November 16, 2017. FBR said that the “UAE tax authorities exchanged detailed information in respect to 53 Pakistani individuals who have investments in real estate along with copies of passports in 31 cases vide letters dated January 22, 2018, and January 28, 2018, respectively.” FIA officials claimed that these 31 Pakistanis have pumped have around Rs60 billion into 55 properties in Dubai. Geo News had disclosed earlier that some 7, 000 Pakistanis have bought properties worth an estimated Rs1.1 trillion in the heart of Dubai in the past one-and-a half-decade. Majority of them did not disclose these properties in their annual returns and were said to be moving their assets out of the country to avoid getting caught in the event of a serious crackdown on this unaccounted-for money. -- PT

NAB to probe Pakistanis’ Dubai investment

ICMD, Feb 9, 2018 In a major development, a parliamentary committee on Friday unanimously decided to send the case of illegal investments of over $8 billion by Pakistanis in the Dubai realty sector to the National Accountability Bureau for investigation. Headed by PML-N MNA Qaiser Ahmad Sheikh, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance took the decision on the recommendations of its subcommittee that had been constituted to look into the issue. Members from all political parties unanimously decided to hand the case over to the anti-graft body, which is the only institution that can deal with Dubai authorities under a legal framework. The subcommittee came to the conclusion that no other state institution has the capability to get the information on a fast-track basis, and that NAB would have to adopt the same procedures it used to get information about former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s assets named in the Panama Papers. PML-N’s Shezra Mansab headed the subcommittee panel and the major input was given by Asad Umar of the PTI. The sub-committee had been set up to look into the modus operandi of sending abroad $8 billion; whether that money can be brought back and how future overseas investments by individuals can be stopped. The volume of the illegal investment is expected to jump further, as the list balloons further. All the investment made in the Dubai’s real estate are illegal, as the State Bank of Pakistan has already informed the committee that the central bank never gave the permission to any individual to invest in the real estate sector anywhere in the world. The money laundering and terrorism financing remain a serious issue, as the wealth generated through illegal means or by evading taxes is either invested in the real estate in Pakistan or channeled to other destinations like Dubai. During Friday’s proceedings, fresh revelations were also made about the dubious role of the Federal Board of Revenue in the Dubai real estate investigation case. PTI’s Asad Umer and a senior journalist from a private news channel claimed that the FBR was in possession of a list of thousands of Pakistanis since 2015 who have investment stakes in Dubai. But during the meetings of the subcommittee, both the FBR and the Federal Investigation Agency denied that they knew about the Pakistanis who invested abroad. “During our committee’s proceedings, the FBR kept lying and gave misstatement that it did not have any information about the people who invested abroad,” said Umar. “According to my information, the report about 3,000 Pakistanis, who invested in Dubai, was in the possession of FBR Chairman Tariq Pasha and former finance minister Ishaq Dar,” said Umar. A senior journalist from a private news channel claimed that he obtained a list from sources in the FBR that carried the names of more than 5,000 Pakistanis who owned properties in Dubai. During the subcommittee’s proceedings, the FIA director had informed the committee that the agency has shared a list of 100 people who own properties in Dubai with the FBR. Neither the FBR nor the FIA told about the existence of the list carrying the names of thousands of Pakistanis. The FBR (Member) Inland Revenue Policy Dr Mohammad Iqbal claimed before the standing committee that he did not have knowledge of the existence of any such list. But Minister of State for Finance Rana Mohammad Afzal said that the federal government could take action only where the information was authentic and obtained through legal channels. Umer, challenging the contention, said former finance minister Ishaq Dar had talked about $200 billion wealth of Pakistanis stashed in Switzerland. “Despite that, he did not get this information from official channels.” Dr Mohammad Iqbal said that the FBR had shared the list of 100 Pakistanis with the Dubai authorities and it got the first response just last week. “The Dubai authorities have so far confirmed that about 55 Pakistanis have bought properties in Dubai and they also shared the copies of 35 passports,” said Dr Iqbal. He said the information has been sent to the FBR field formations for further action. -- ET

Big business models a threat to real journalism: Bilawal

ICMD, Jan 24, 2018 Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in a panel address at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos discussing Fake news vs Real politics said the big business models pose a threat to real journalism in Pakistan. Discussing the concept of fake news, Bilawal said that fake news recently gained popularity primarily through US Elections, however it has existed for decades. Responding to questions raised during the discussion, Bhutto said, “When fake news is disseminated in Pakistan it can have major issues – the point is to have the media come through as transparent as it can. Coming from a fragile democracy attacking and demonising the media can have adverse effects.” Growth in Pakistan expected to pick up in 2018, 2019: IMF Bilawal said that there’s no concrete way to ask who runs fake news in Pakistan, they are far more commercialised, they push out their monetary interest. A lot of actors are involved in this especially commercial owners, he maintained. The PPP Chairperson further stated that it is big business models and industrial giants who own and run media houses which pose a high possibility of the news being biased. On western media propagation he said, “Let’s not forget weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was fake news – we have to be able to sort of see that we don’t recognise our own fault. They pitched US intelligence narratives which turned out to be a fiction.” When asked about how much danger fake news poses to democracy, Bilawal said that big business models are a fundamental threat to democracy. “We have some of the most amazing, dedicated journalists in Pakistan but with the big houses doling out cash potentially plaster real news with sensationalism.” Bilawal maintained that self-censorship and freedom of speech has to have a balance. It is crucial to have authenticity and credibility even if the news comes ‘from the people by the people’ like WikiTribune. The journalists could get together, create authentic content, get driven and perhaps counter fake news better this way. “I’m more comfortable with something like that – we have a long history of dealing with distortion of facts. I personally don’t trust my state dealing with fake news. If the grassroots components are addressed, there could be a positive change.” Bilawal doubled down on the fact that imparting education is not only advised but imperative to help counter this issue. “I don’t remember being taught about sourcing, bias, research when I was studying. The generation today must also be taught how to identify fake news when they come across it.” He conclusively stated that raising tribal and partisanship concerns is important. Accepting the fact that fake news would be around for some time, he said empowering people can always lead to fruitful results in the future. ET

Govt to sell PIA before 2018 elections

ICMD, Jan 14, 2018 The government will try to privatise Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) before general elections due this year, privatisation minister Daniyal Aziz said, as the ruling party seeks to restart sales of state-run businesses. The national flag carrier, haemorrhaging money and losing market share to Gulf-based rivals such as Etihad and Emirates, has been hit by management turmoil in recent years and a 2016 plane crash that led to 47 deaths. The privatisation of loss-making entities that were draining the exchequer was a key priority for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party when it swept to power in 2013. PIA was among 68 state-owned companies earmaked for privatisation in return for a $6.7 billion International Monetary Fund package that helped Pakistan to stave off a default in 2013. Despite some initial success, the process stalled in 2016 after staff protests caused havoc with PIA operations and the government passed a law that effectively made it impossible to privatise the airline. But Aziz, chairman of the Privatisation Commission, told Reuters that new plans have been drawn up to sell off PIA and he would take the proposals to the cabinet committee on privatisation, chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. “Next step would be going to the cabinet committee … and that’s imminent, maybe even next week,” Aziz said in his Islamabad office this week. The new plans focus on splitting up the carrier, with the core airline business being separated from vast peripheral operations such as catering, hotels and maintenance, Aziz said. The core airline would then be sold. Heavy losses But to complete the transaction, Aziz said, the government would have to pass laws in parliament to reverse the 2016 legislation that converted PIA into a limited company and effectively barred the government from giving up management control. The impetus to sell PIA has grown as the airline has piled up huge losses estimated by its former CEO in March at about $30 million a month. Total debt stood at 186 billion rupees ($1.8 billion) at the end of 2016. When asked how soon could a buyer could acquire PIA, Aziz said: “Tomorrow morning. If you have the money, come and buy it.” Aziz gave no indication of an expected valuation. -- Reuters

Widespread pollution may chock Karachi port

ICMD, Jan 2, 2018 The Senate's Standing Committee on Maritime Affairs was informed on Tuesday that international ships may soon stop visiting the Karachi seaport due to the rising amount of pollution in the coastal region. In a briefing on the matter, the committee was told that Karachi receives around 500 million gallons of water every day and subsequently, an equal quantity of polluted water is dumped into the sea on a daily basis. The Senate body was further told that the toxic waste of industries was also released into the sea without being treated. The committee was informed that the rising amount of pollution would cause massive problems for the country and the health and well-being of its citizens if instant measures are not taken to fix the issue. According to a survey conducted by United Nations, the dangerous levels of toxins and poison in the water around the coast of Karachi are causing great harm to marine life. Last year, the National Assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had been informed that around 472 million gallons of sewerage were being released into the sea on a daily basis. It was said that around 275 million gallons of sewerage were released daily from Karachi Port, whereas another 136 million gallons was dumped by the upscale Defence Housing Authority. Following the briefing, Mayor Karachi Wasim Akhtar and all other relevant officials in the case were summoned by the committee. -- Dawn

Twitter expands its character count to 280

Twitter’s expansion to 280 characters is rolling out publicly today to all users in supported languages, including English, reports Tech Crunch. The company had first announced the plan to move beyond its traditional 140 characters back in September, noting at the time how a longer character count allowed users to express more of their thoughts without running out of room to tweet. The expansion was initially available to a select group of Twitter users as a trial. At the time of its original announcement, the company cited data backing up its decision that referenced how the character constraints impacted users differently, depending on their language. Because of this, Twitter decided the expansion to 280 characters would only roll out to those languages affected by “cramming” – meaning everything but Japanese, Chinese and Korean – during the test period. The decision was met with a fair amount of controversy, given that one of Twitter’s defining characteristics is the brevity of users’ posts. Many argued that the increase to 280 characters would make Twitter less readable, as longer tweets filled their timelines. Others suggested that Twitter’s focus on a feature no one really asked for was diverting its attention from more critical problems – like the rampant abuse, harassment and bullying it’s become known for unfortunately. -- ICMD, Nov 8, 2017

Bank of China begins operations in Pakistan

Bank of China has formally launched its operations in Pakistan, with its first branch inaugurated in Karachi on Tuesday. Bank of China Chairman Chen Siqing said it was "a great honour" for the bank to be launching in Pakistan, observing that the Karachi branch was its first in South Asia. He said the bank would strengthen the "brotherly relations" between the two countries in the financial sector. Siqing said China’s progressive and fast-paced economy was ready to enter an era of high-grade standards, and emphasised that the Bank of China could help Pakistan effectively reap the benefits of China’s economic prosperity. State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Tariq Bajwa welcomed the bank to Pakistan, saying that the increased diversity of foreign banks would increase the country’s economic resilience. He also expressed hopes that Pakistan would learn from the Bank of China's expertise in the small and medium enterprises sector. --- ICMD, Nov 7, 2017