Thursday, October 6, 2022

Ex-FBR chief’s leave cancelled for Justice Isa case

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has cancelled the leave of its former chairman Ashfaq Ahmad after the government set up a ministerial committee to fix responsibility in the case of alleged illegal provision of information in an asset declaration case against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

However, highly placed sources told The Express Tribune that attempts were being made to save the skin of two grade-20 FBR officers, who had allegedly facilitated the illegal provision of the information.

They added that their sympathisers in the tax machinery were planning to put the entire blame on the shoulders of the former FBR chairman.

The FBR had granted a seven-day leave to Dr Ashfaq, who is without a posting since April this year after the government removed him as the FBR chairman.

Dr Ashfaq confirmed to The Express Tribune that his leave had been cancelled without giving a reason.

The FBR cancelled the leave after it came to the knowledge of the media that the government had set up a ministerial committee to fix responsibility on the bureau’s officials in the Justice Isa case.

Also read: Body to identify FBR officials responsible for Justice Isa case

Under Section 216 of the Income Tax Ordinance, the FBR and its concerned officials are responsible to protect the confidentiality of the information provided by a taxpayer in discharging the lawful obligation. But these officers allegedly violated this clause.

Dr Ashfaq was scheduled to travel to the US to speak at the World Bank’s 4th Global Tax Equity Conference on Friday. After cancellation of the leave, Dr Ashfaq was programmed to present the findings of his paper via video link.

The former FBR chairman has written a paper on the United Nations Model Tax Treaty’s Article 26: Inequitable Exchange of Information Regime – Questionable Efficacy in Asymmetrical Bilateral Settings.

Dr Ashfaq has long been writing for international journals on tax matters.

However, during his tenure, he could not strengthen the international taxes wing.

Last week, The Express Tribune had reported that the FBR had quietly appointed three officials at key positions, at least two without the knowledge of the government.

It is alleged that the then international taxes chief, Dr Ashfaq, who later became the FBR chairman, had provided some information to the previous government. The information had been provided by first securing it from the then commissioner of Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) Islamabad, Zulifqar Ahmad.

It is also alleged that FBR’s Sajida Kausar also played an active role in it.

After the PML-N came to power, Zulifqar Ahmad, Sajida Kausar and Khurshid Alam were removed from their positions and placed in the admin pool of the FBR.

Also read: Asim Ahmed likely to become FBR chairman

But a month ago, the federal government quietly appointed Zulifqar as the Workers Welfare Fund secretary under the overseas Pakistanis and human resource development ministry.

On Wednesday, the FBR again removed Sajida, who on September 2, had been appointed as the commissioner of Islamabad Capital Territory Tax on Services Ordinance (ICTO) Zone, Islamabad.

Khurshid Alam was appointed as the Income Tax Budget (ITB) second secretary at the FBR headquarters.

The sources said Khurshid had initially been wrongly clubbed with the other two officers as the person, who had actually facilitated Dr Ashfaq, Zulifqar and Sajida, had already retired from service.

But the sources said the sympathisers of these officers were trying to protect them by planning to pin the entire blame on Dr Ashfaq.

The sources said internal correspondence suggested that these officers facilitated the whole process, including giving reminders for the provision of the information. They had remained part and parcel of Dr Ashfaq’s core team.

However, one of them had been assured that despite the removal, the officer would be reinstated once the dust was settled, said the sources.

They said had Zulifqar and Sajida not corroborated, it was not possible for the then government to take the case to the Supreme Judicial Council.

Under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) treaty, Pakistan can only use the offshore information for tax purposes.

Instead, it used the information for framing a legal case. This, according to independent legal experts, might have impacted the country’s standing in the eyes of the OECD.

The Express Tribune sent questions to FBR spokesperson Afaque Qureshi, requesting him to comment on the cancellation of leave of the former bureau’s chairman and whether or not the tax body was trying to save the skin of Zulifqar and Sajida. The response is still awaited.

The overseas Pakistanis and human resource development ministry secretary also did not reply whether or not his ministry would surrender the services of Zulfiqar, who was serving as the Workers Welfare Fund secretary.

The sources said there was a possibility that some senior FBR members might also be removed from their positions in a separate case.

They added that if PML-N’s Ishaq Dar, a former finance minister, made a comeback to the Q Block, some other changes in the FBR were also expected.

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