ISLAMABAD: While pointing towards the inaction of the Federal Board of Revenue, the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) has asked the FBR to reveal its plan that how and when it is going to recover tax on £190 million (44.84 billion Rupees) undeclared wealth in the United Kingdom from property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain. PIC announced the judgment in pursuance of an appeal filed by a citizen.
Pervaiz Said – a civil rights activist based in Karachi – on December 17, 2019 had approached Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to know if an income tax recovery process has been started against Malik Riaz for the disclosed sum of 190 million pounds of undeclared wealth in the United Kingdom.
He also asked the public body to provide him information that how and when, FBR plans to recover the income tax from Malik Riaz?
FBR refused his request by stating that the requested information is exempted from disclosure under sub-section (2) of section 216 of Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 and Section 7(g) of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 itself also exclude the record relating to the personal privacy of any individual.
Mr. Said was not satisfied with the response of the public body and approached the Pakistan Information Commission to decide the matter.
In response to the notice of the PIC, the FBR repeated its stance and submitted before the Commission that the information cannot be shared with the appellant as it is exempted under the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 and the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017.
Realizing the sensitivity of the matter, the Commission also sought opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The spokesperson of the Ministry submitted before the Commission that the disclosure of the requested information would not have any adverse consequences against the interest of Pakistan with regard to the conduct of international / bilateral relations with UK.
The PIC Order states, the appellant has asked the information pertaining to the income tax on the undeclared wealth held by Malik Riaz Hussain in the United Kingdom. It is admitted by the representative of the Government of Pakistan that the said amount was unearthed because of the initiative of Assets Recovery Unit with the help of National Crime Agency of UK.
PIC maintained, the requested information cannot be exempted from disclosure on any of the grounds mentioned in Section 16(j) of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 pertaining to the disclosure or otherwise of information related to a crime.
Six pages verdict, authored by Information Commissioner, Fawad Malik further states, exclusion claimed by the respondent public body on the score of personal privacy of an individual does not rescue the organization from disclosing the requested information. Infect, as it is a reported case of undeclared wealth, the disclosure of the requested information will shed light on the steps taken by the FBR regarding the recovery of Income tax on sum of £190 million undeclared wealth which is a matter of public importance. In any case, the disclosure of requested information is not likely to invade the personal privacy of an identifiable individual in the instant appeal.
This Commission fails to understand how disclosure of the requested information about steps taken to recover income tax on undeclared wealth will result in the commission of crime, as claimed by the respondent, PIC order reads.
PIC maintained, as the sum involved in the instant appeal exceeds the limit of two and half million Rupees, the FBR was legally bound to have published names of the tax invaders and enablers in the matter in hand. As such, shrouding in the cloak of secrecy information about the steps taken to recover income tax on proven undeclared wealth will erode public trust in FBR rather than serving any public interest.
Pakistan Information Commission has directed the Federal Board of Revenue is directed to provide the appellant information as to whether the income tax recovery process has been initiated against Malik RiazHussain for the disclosed sum of £190 million of undeclared wealth in the United Kingdom, if not than how and when FBR plans to recover the same within seven working days.
It is pertinent to mention that this issue was highlight in a news story published in Dawn which states that the £190 million settlement is the result of an investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
Later, a statement, released from the office of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, said that Britain had agreed to an “immediate repatriation” of the funds received after the settlement and hailed it as a “success story of close cooperation between the United Kingdom and Pakistan’s multiple law enforcement agencies and efforts made since last year’s Justice and Accountability Partnership created between the two countries”.