ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill providing for confiscation of benami properties, at a time when the Panamagate scandal — involving politicians not disclosing wealth stashed abroad — is dominating the country’s courtrooms and headlines.
Over a dozen amendments were made to the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill, 2016, by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue. One more amendment, to make the bill enforceable at once, was moved by Leader of the Opposition in Senate Aitzaz Ahsan. In its original form, the bill is to come into force from a date to be notified by the government.
The National Assembly has already passed the bill.
The amendment was approved by a majority vote of 18-16, ascertained through a head count, with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator retired Gen Salahudin Tirmizi abstaining. The gesture was welcomed by Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Farhatullah Babar, who applauded Gen Tirmizi for showing courage and taking a decision based on his conscience.
Law stipulates up to seven-year jail term for those involved in such deals
All three senators from Fata, present in the house at the time, also voted with the opposition, breaking a tradition of Fata lawmakers siding with the government.
The bill will now go back to the National Assembly and will become a law once it is passed along with the Senate’s amendments and following the formal assent of the president.
Benami literally means ‘without name’ and in the context of property, it means use and benefit by a person other than the person who is shown as the owner.
A transaction or arrangement where a property is transferred to or held by one person, while the consideration for such property is provided or paid by another person and the property is held for the immediate or future benefit, direct or indirect, of the person providing the consideration, is called a benami transaction.
Law Minister Zahid Hamid, who moved the bill on behalf of the finance minister, said that there was a realisation that a similar law was in operation in other countries of the region.
He said that property held in benami had been causing concern to tax authorities and past practice and experience had shown that benami transactions had often been resorted to for furthering illegal or questionable objectives, including the evasion of taxes.
He said that the bill was moved to deal with the problem of tax evasion and black money, especially in the real estate sector, and to target transactions that are carried out in other people’s names.
Offences and penalties
Under Section 51(1) of the bill, where any person enters into a benami transaction or holds benami property in order to defeat the provisions of any law or to avoid payment of statutory dues or to avoid payment to creditors, the beneficial owner, benamidar and any other person who abets or induces any person to enter into the benami transaction, shall be guilty of the offence.
Section 51(2) reads: “Whoever is found guilty of the offence of benami transaction or holding of benami property referred to in sub-section (1) shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to 25pc of the fair market value of the property.”
Under Section 52, any person who is required to furnish information under this law and knowingly gives false information to any authority or furnishes any false document in any proceeding under this law, shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to 10pc of the fair market value of the property.