Body to identify FBR officials responsible for Justice Isa case

The government has notified a powerful ministerial committee to fix responsibility on those tax officials, who misused their position to frame an asset declaration case against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

The development came amid the disclosure that three of the four officials have recently been posted at key positions.

Apparently, the Prime Minister’s Office was kept in the dark about the fresh appointment and posting of the three Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) officers, who had played a role in the Justice Isa case.

The law and justice ministry notified the 10-member committee on Tuesday in light of a decision by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led federal cabinet in July.

The committee, having representation of all the allies of the government, has been given the sole responsibility to hold accountable those people, who had leaked confidential tax information to the last government.

Read more: In a first, Justice Isa to sit with CJP in bench

“The Law and Justice Division Secretary is pleased to constitute the committee to fix responsibility on the heads and officials of ARU (Asset Recovery Unit) and FBR, who exceeded/misused the authority in Mr Justice Qazi Faez Isa case,” read the notification.

Under Section 2016 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.

However, it is alleged that the then international taxes chief, Mohammad Ashfaq Ahmad, 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 alleged that FBR’s Sajida Kausar also played an active role in it.

“Section 216 of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, commands confidentiality of the information of a tax filer and breach therefore exposes the delinquent to penal consequences under sections 198 and 199 of the Ordinance,” wrote Justice Yahya Afridi in his separate note on the Supreme Court's detailed judgment in the case.

He had stated that such consequences were attracted in the present case to those giving the unlawful directions – namely then ARU chairman Mirza Shahzad Akbar with the concurrence of  then law minister Dr Farogh Naseem.

The tax officials executing these directions were in breach of Section 216 of the Ordinance, the judge had added.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar is the convener of the ministerial committee. The other members are the finance; poverty alleviation and social safety; communications; IT and telecom; federal education and professional training; defence production; science and technology; and narcotics control ministers as well as the adviser to the prime minister on Kashmir affairs.

The notification read that the committee would submit its recommendations in two weeks to the cabinet — a deadline that will lapse on September 28.

After the ouster of former premier Imran Khan, the FBR had sidelined four of its officials, who had played a role in the Justice Isa case.

PM Shehbaz had removed Ashfaq Ahmad as the FBR chairman in the last week of April and since then he had not been given a posting.

The three other officers, Zulifqar Ahmad, Sajida Kausar and Khurshid Alam, were also removed from their positions the same week and placed in the admin pool of the FBR.

However, a month ago, the federal government quietly appointed Zulifqar as the Workers Welfare Fund secretary under the overseas Pakistanis and human resource development ministry, according to a notification seen by The Express Tribune.

Zulifqar has been appointed on deputation for a period of three years at a prized posting.

The FBR implicitly endorsed the posting by relieving its officer despite him having been sidelined in a very serious nature case.

Not only that, two weeks after the deputation of Zulifqar, the FBR Chairman Secretariat authorised the posting of Sajida Kausar as the commissioner of Information and Communication Technology Office (ICTO) Zone, Islamabad and Khurshid Alam as the Income Tax Budget (ITB) second secretary at the FBR headquarters, according to two separate notifications issued in the first week of this month.

The Express Tribune had sent three questions to FBR spokesperson Afaque Qureshi, requesting him to comment about the reasons behind first the officials' removal in April and then their postings. He was also asked whether or not the PM’s Office was taken into confidence on the decision. However, the FBR decided not to reply.

When contacted, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said that did not interfere in the transfer and posting matters of the FBR. The PM’s Office was also unaware about these postings.

The federal government and FBR went ahead with the posting plan of these officers despite in the last week of July, the federal cabinet had decided to withdraw the curative review petitions filed against Justice Isa of the Supreme Court, observing that the action was taken by the previous government through “unfair use of authority”.

On April 26, 2021, the apex court’s majority judges had quashed the FBR’s proceedings against Justice Isa and its report on the matter.

The majority judgment, issued on January 29, had accepted the review petitions of Justice Isa and his wife with a majority decision of 6:4 against the June 19, 2020 order.

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