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Power rivalry in Pakistan escalates as Army chief Bajwa caught in financial scam

Pak army chief is involved in a major financial scandal days before his retirement

The power struggle between former Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has intensified following a major financial scandal involving Pakistan’s military supremo.

An investigative report on the website Fact Focus, by Pakistani journalist Ahmad Noorani has revealed that in a matter of a few years after Bajwa became army chief, his family and extended family members, started a new business, owned farmhouses in major Pakistani cities and bought foreign properties, raking in billions of dollars as a result. The report based its findings on the family’s tax records.

The tarnishing of General Bajwa’s image, just a few days ahead of his retirement, is likely to question his choice of the next army chief—an appointment that could be mired in controversy long after he retires.

According to tradition, Pakistan’s General Headquarters (GHQ) sends a list of the four to five senior-most lieutenant generals, along with their personnel files, to the Defence Ministry, which in turn forwards them to the prime minister to pick the officer he finds best suited to the role. According to the Pakistani daily Dawn, the final appointment by the Prime Minister is preceded by the PM’s ‘informal consultation’ with the outgoing army chief, his own perceptions and his discussions with his closest advisors. The outgoing army chief, in this case Gen. Bajwa is the only outgoing army chief, during his ‘informal consultation’ with the prime minister, who provides personal input on who he thinks should succeed him.

But following the ongoing scandal that has impacted his image, Gen. Bajwa’s choice of his successor can be tacitly brought into question.

It is well-known that former Prime Minister Khan has been a supporter of former ISI chief and current corps commander in Bahawalpur, Faiz Hameed, who is eligible for an appointment as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Khan has infuriated the current military dispensation by accusing Major General Faisal Naseer of the ISI of masterminding an attempt on his life at Wazirabad, during the first phase of his Long March. Khan is leading the Long March to Islamabad to mount popular pressure for early general elections in Pakistan, assuming that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party will triumph in the polls.

The Shehbaz Sharif government which came to power after removing Khan during a no-confidence vote has, unsurprisingly, come out in support of the embattled Bajwa.  On Monday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar ordered an investigation into the ‘illegal, unwarranted’ leak of COAS’s family tax records.

Dar told Geo News that an immediate investigation will be carried out into the issue, whose results would be available within 24 hours.  “This is clearly a violation of the complete confidentiality of tax information that the law provides,” a statement from the Finance Division read.
The Fact Focus report has investigated the financial dealings of Bajwa’s family including his wife Ayesha Amjad, his daughter-in-law Mahnoor Sabir and other members of the extended family.

“Within six years, both families became billionaires, started an international business, purchased multiple foreign properties, started transferring capital abroad, became owners of commercial plazas, commercial plots, huge farmhouses in Islamabad and Karachi, an immense real estate portfolio in Lahore, and so on. The current market value of the – known – assets and businesses within Pakistan and outside accumulated by the Bajwa family during the last six years is more than Rs12.7 billion,” Noorani wrote.

Based on tax returns and other financial statements, the Pakistani journalist said that between 2013 and 2017, Bajwa revised the wealth statement for 2013 three times, after being appointed the country’s army chief.

“In the revised wealth statement for the year 2013, General Bajwa added a commercial plot in phase VIII of DHA Lahore. He claimed that in fact he had purchased this plot back in 2013 but forgot to declare. He would continue to forget for the next four years and could only remember his omissions in 2017, one year after becoming army chief,” he wrote in Fact Focus.

Back in 2016, Ayesha Amjad declared eight “Any Other Assets”, without giving much detail. But on April 17, 2018, this was revised after Bajwa became the Pak army chief. She declared that the net value of her assets during the previous financial year, 2015, was zero.

However, within six years, after dubious dealing of residential and commercial plots, her wealth went from zero in 2016 to Rs 2.2 billion – “not including residential plots, commercial plots, and houses given by the army to her husband.”

The change in fortune of Bajwa’s daughter-in-law Mahnoor Sabir was also spectacular.

“The total worth of a young woman’s declared assets was zero in the last week of October 2018, it jumped to more than one billion (Rs 1271 million) just one week before her marriage on November 02, 2018,” Noorani wrote.

Though Mahnoor Sabir declared these properties to the FBR in 2018, the filing retrospectively stated that these properties were acquired in the tax years 2014, 2015, and 2016, the report added.

Also Read: FIR fiasco gives Imran Khan an edge in fight with Army Generals