By Umar Cheema
ISLAMABAD: A billionaire minister, Senator Azam Swati, is among top frequent flyers but is at the bottom in terms of tax payment. He trips abroad an average 18 times a year. He belongs to the class that parks wealth abroad and enjoys power in Pakistan.
If his personal tax is taken a measure to judge his contribution towards Pakistani economy, it is negligible to nil, however, the value he declared of his assets is in billions. In last ten years (2008-18), federal minister for science and technology, Swati, has travelled abroad for more than 170 times which means an average 1.5 trip each month.
His tax in contrast is negligible. His filing for the financial year 2015-16 shows he paid in come tax of Rs 123,861 against the declared income of Rs 1.8 million (to be precise Rs 1,809,407). He declared this in his assets statement submitted with the ECP. Information of following years isn’t available yet.Travel expenses Swati declared in that tax return is Rs 960,000 whereas his travel information of the corresponding period indicate he flew abroad for 24 times meaning thereby twice a month. If his declared travel expenses are to believe, each foreign trip cost him average Rs 40,000 which seems unbelievable unless he claims the airlines offer him extraordinary discount whereas his stay abroad is afforded by some financiers.
In his assets declarations of 2016, Swati mentions that he was exempted from paying tax in previous years. He was not available to explain what kind of exemption he had claimed. The News tried to reach him. He didn’t reply notwithstanding the fact he was dropped text messages for a number of time.
A whopping drop in his income was also noted in the year he filed tax returns when compared with the year he had claimed exemption. Swati declares his income was Rs14.50 million in the year when he claimed tax exemption. The following year, there was a drastic cut as it reduced to Rs1.8 million when tax was to be paid.
Swati doesn’t personally own any bank account in Pakistan; all seven are at his wife’s name. He has accounts in US and UAE banks. In Pakistan, he owns a farm house that is in spotlight these days, thanks to his alleged victimization of a poor family living in shanty neighborhood. Price of the farm spread in around seven acres has been declared Rs173 million.Another ten properties in Islamabad are in addition to this farm. He has declared six vehicles in his name and another one is registered at his spouse name. The value of total assets inside and out of Pakistan declared by him in 2016 is Rs1.35 billion. Many of his properties are in USA and UAE, according to the declaration.
Swati is not the only top frequent flyers with poor tax contribution. This correspondent reported in 2015 about 100 top flyers; their average travel ranged between three to eight times per month. As for as the tax is concerned, only five of them had filed tax returns.
Zia-ul-Haq, a Karachi-based businessman, for example, who would travel three-time a month had declared annual income only Rs. 174,000, according to the information collected by Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation Inland Revenue of FBR.
The information collected of 619 frequent international travelers between 2012 and 2014 had found that only 242 of them were NTN-holders. When it comes to filing tax returns, there were only 77 individuals who did that.
Top in that frequent flyers list was 29-year old citizen, Jibran Nafees, whose average international visits per month were 12 but he was not registered for NTN, let alone declaring income and filing tax returns. Out of top-10 flyers, only two are registered for NTN. Even they didn’t file tax returns.
Zahid Rehmani, the first traveler having contributed some amount has been spotted only at 103rd position, out of 619 names. He travels abroad three times a month on average but his declared income is Rs. 405,000 and the tax paid Rs. 500.
Among the top-100 frequent flyers, there are 45 NTN-holders and five of them filed tax returns but paid zero tax. The declared income of these five filers is self-explanatory. Tax is levied on income above Rs. 400,000 and none of them has crossed this threshold.
Some investigators believe that these top flyers sometimes are conduits of the rich who use them for transportation of cash to Dubai and bring back valuables from there. This may be true to some extent but there are individuals like Azam Swati who are rich and frequent traveler alike.