LAHORE: Pakistan’s corporate sector including bankers, businessmen and finance professionals have come out in support of National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) President, Arif Usmani after reports of an ongoing investigation by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) into alleged offshore assets owned by him were leaked to the media, stating that such information should be kept confidential in all cases until an accused is acquitted or convicted.
According to a report carried by this publication on January 3, the FBR is probing the incumbent NBP President Arif Usmani for allegedly concealing offshore accounts.
Signed by dozens of professionals, a statement in support of Usmani said that “reports of frivolous charges against him clearly indicate the mala fide intent of vested interests.”
Similarly, taking to Twitter, a number of renown officials also condemned the leaking of the news and its subsequent publishing in the media.
“As former Senior Partner of A. F. Ferguson & Co and former FBR chairman, it is my responsibility to agitate public debate on the personal tax of NBP President Mr Arif Usmani. It destroys the faith in our tax system and resultantly Pakistan. AU is an honourable man. Save Pakistan,” former FBR chairman Shabbar Zaidi said in a tweet.
As former Senior Partner of A F Ferguson & Co and former Chairman FBR It my responsibility to agitate public debate on personal tax of Mr Arif Usmani President NBP. It destroys the faith on our tax system and resultantly Pakistan. AU is an honourable man. Save Pakistan.
— SyedShabbarZaidi (@SShabbarZaidi) January 4, 2021
Replying to Zaidi’s tweet, Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Policy Board Member and (KE) BoD’s Board Member, Asad Ali Shah, a chartered accountant by profession, regretted the “media campaign against Arif Usmani”.
“Highly regret vicious media campaign against Mr. Arif Usmani, President NBP, a thorough gentleman who was selected to lead NBP through a robust process. I agree any tax questions raised by FBR need to be in accordance with law & are not for public debate or domain.”
Highly regret vicious media campaign against Mr. Arif Usmani, President NBP, a thorough gentleman who was selected to lead NBP through a robust process. I agree, any tax questions raised by FBR need to be in accordance with law & ar not for public debate or domain. https://t.co/nOKSK0sPpA
— Asad Ali Shah (@Asad_Ashah) January 7, 2021
Punjab Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) Senior Consultant Azam Jamil tweeted, “Arif is a dear friend. Have known him all my life. He would not earn a wrong dollar ever. Not submitting a document could possibly be an error in judgment, never in intention.”
Arif is a dear friend. Have known him all my life. He would not earn a wrong dollar ever. Not submitting a document could possibly be an error in judgment, never in intention.
— Azam Jamil (@AzamJamil53) January 6, 2021
It may be mentioned here that the country’s corporate sector, including members of the Pakistan Business Council (PBC), has repeatedly raised the issue of leaking news of investigations against officials holding posts in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to the media before conclusions. Meetings in this regard had also been held with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan in October 2019, wherein it was suggested that federal agencies be directed to conceal information regarding ongoing probes until they are concluded.
It was said that professionals in the industry consciously avoid top slots in SOEs, for instance, PIA, PTCL, PEPCO etc. due to such an atmosphere where professionals with stellar careers are subjected to media trials that tarnish their reputations before a judgement is reached.
More recently, it was opined that the FBR could be mistaken or there might be vested lobbies involved against officials holding important positions in national institutions. However, the criticism almost always goes against the media rather than federal agencies.
The same sentiment also echoed in Usmani’s favour, with businessmen and others privy to the matter saying that the trial against him was baseless, to begin with.
“Just when govt needs professional expertise to sort our PSEs and public/private partnership is the way forward, media trial of Arif Usmani, President NBP, an accomplished banker with impeccable credentials and declared wealth is regretful,” a tweet by Pakistan Business Council (PBC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ehsan A. Malik said, adding, “I am sure Arif Usmani can account for his wealth though how reasonable is it to ask for a 30-year record of earnings? Notwithstanding, this investigation could be conducted confidentially. How do you expect more professionals to serve the public good when they can see how courageous people with an unblemished record like Arif are treated?”
Just when govt needs professional expertise to sort our PSEs and public/private partnership is the way forward, media trial of Arif Usmani, President NBP, an accomplished banker with impeccable credentials & declared wealth is regretful.@ImranKhanPTI @a_hafeezshaikh @Asad_Umar
— Ehsan A. Malik (@EhsanAMalik1) January 7, 2021
Members of the business community also pointed out that making the amount of money the incumbent NBP president has is no big deal for a banker of his stature. “Any successful banker would be rich with hard-earned money. By these hounding tactics who on earth with competence would ever think to work for the government?” UBL Fund Managers ex-CEO Mir Muhammad Ali said.
Any successful banker would be rich with hard earned money. By these hounding tactics who on earth with competence would ever think to work for the government?
— Mir Muhammad Ali (@MirMAli) January 6, 2021
On January 3, this publication had reported about FBR’s probe into the NBP’s incumbent president’s alleged offshore assets based on documents available with the media.
The publication had also reached out for a statement from Arif Usmani, who informed Profit that he is submitting information all regarding his offshore assets, acquired during the 26 years that he spent out of the country, to the FBR.
It may be noted here that the government, in consultation with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), had approved the appointment of Arif Usmani as CEO of the NBP for a duration of three years on February 12, 2019.
He had been serving at Mashreq Bank whereas his previous experience included stints as global head of wholesale banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank PJSC, and also managing director and country officer of Citibank NA Pakistan.