Riddle of Pakistan’s tax-free MPs

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Almost 70 per cent of Pakistan’s MPs appear not to have filed income tax returns last year, a group of investigative journalists have claimed.

The Centre for Investigative Journalism in Pakistan published the records of 446 MPs and ministers, ahead of elections next year, in a bid to call them to account over a lack of public spending on schools and hospitals, a power crisis and widespread hardship, despite western aid packages. The low tax take is considered a key reason for the spending deficit.

Umar Cheema, an award-winning journalist heading the Centre, took MPs’ identity card numbers from public election nomination papers, then convinced employees at the Federal Board of Revenue to leak their tax returns. It took him nine months to collect the data.

Among the MPs whose tax returns the group was unable to find is Mehboob Ullah Jan, a former secretary for religious ­affairs.

His assets of more than $30 million (£18.5m) make him Pakistan’s richest MP, according to an analysis of asset declarations by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, an Islamabad-based think-tank. The journalists’ group said it had not been able to find tax returns for 35 out of 55 government ministers, including those of the interior minister Rehman Malik.