A week after serious allegations were levelled about his family’s assets, retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, while rejecting the allegations, said he was resigning as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on information and broadcasting. That was in early-September 2020. But Bajwa said he would continue as chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority (only to resign from the post about a year later).
All this happened after journalist Ahmed Noorani of FactFocus, a Pakistani news website, put out a report alleging Bajwa had used his offices in setting up off-shore businesses of his wife, sons and brothers.
According to FactFocus, Bajwa family’s assets at the time of the death of their father Muhammad Saleem Bajwa included a few acres of agricultural land, a house in Sadiqabad, shares in a pharmaceutical company, and some shops in the city. Their father’s brother had to help them pay for family expenses.
The two eldest sons, Tanvir and Taloot, went on to become doctors like their father and practised in different cities of Punjab. The third son, Asim, joined the army in 1984. Two other sons, Nadeem and Faisal, came to the United States in the early 1990s after completing their education from Punjab University in Lahore. The youngest son, Abdul Malik, went to the U.S. in 2002, as per the FactFocus report.
The report said Mr Bajwa’s younger brothers opened their first Papa John’s pizza restaurant in 2002, the year he started working as a lieutenant colonel on General Pervez Musharraf’s staff.
According to the news report, Nadeem Bajwa, who started as a delivery driver for the pizza restaurant franchise, his brothers and Asim Bajwa’s wife and sons now own a business empire which set up 99 companies in four countries, including a pizza franchise with 133 restaurants worth an estimated $39.9 mn. Of the total 99 firms, 66 are main companies, 33 are branch companies of some of the main companies while five firms are dead now. The Bajwa family’s companies spent an estimated $52.2 mn to develop their businesses and $14.5 mn to purchase properties in the United States.
The news report further said that Bajwa’s wife Farrukh Zeba was a shareholder in all the foreign businesses from the very beginning and at present (2020) she is associated with or is a shareholder in 85 companies including 82 foreign companies (71 in United States, seven in UAE and four in Canada). The records of US state governments and other documents related to the companies show that some of these American companies (all jointly owned by Farrukh Zeba) also have investments in the real estate sector and own 13 commercial properties in the United States, including two shopping centers. The estimated current (2020) net worth of businesses and properties of these companies jointly owned by Farrukh Zeba stands at $52.7 mn.
In his statements of assets and liabilities signed in June as SAPM, Asim Bajwa had declared an investment of $18,468 in his wife’s name and they have no “immovable property” outside Pakistan.
Bajwa, soon after the news surfaced, had refuted the allegations about his family’s assets in strong words and termed them “incorrect”. “These allegations have been hurled at me to tarnish my image.”
The news report also alleged that Bajwa’s brothers had conducted businesses in the US and the growth of their businesses was relatable to his promotion in the Pakistani Army.
Bajwa, who was also asked by his colleagues including Information Minister Shibli Faraz to respond to the allegations, said that on the date of filing of the assets declaration, i.e. August 22, his wife was no longer an investor or shareholder in any business of his brothers or anyone else, abroad. “My wife had disinvested all her interests as on 01.06.2020 in any entity abroad and such facts have been duly documented in the official records in the US. It may be pointed out that the company registered with the SECP (Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan) in Pakistan was the liaison office of the companies in the US. The process of change of name in the SECP in Pakistan has been conducted in due course, but that was only a ministerial function since the interest in the parent companies in the US stood no more in the name of my wife as on 22.06.2020, i.e. the date of filing of my declaration of assets and liabilities as an SAPM,” he said.
Bajwa said from 2002 till August 1, 2020, (18 years) the total amount of investment made by his wife in the companies of his brothers in the US was $19,492. “This investment was made by my wife through my savings spread over a period of eighteen years, all of which are fully accounted for. Not once the rules or regulations prescribed by the SBP (State Bank of Pakistan) were violated,” he claimed.
With regard to the alleged investment of his brothers in the pizza chain Papa John’s in the US and the UAE, he said the news story asserted that Bajco Global Management, LLC was the parent company of all Bajco-related businesses. “This is far from the truth as Bajco Global Management, LLC is not parent of any company and is only a management company that provides management services to all Bajco-related businesses on a fee basis. Bajco Global Management, LLC does not have any ownership interest in any Papa John’s in the US, DQ, UAE or any real estate.”
He said the report makes a false claim that Bajco owns 99 companies. “The author has listed many companies multiple times in his list. There are a total of 27 active companies in the US and 2 in the UAE,” he said. “In a span of 18 years, i.e. from 2002 till 20220, my brothers purchased the franchise and assets related thereto and real estate to the tune of $70 million, out of which around $60 million was through bank loans and financial facilities”.
“Over a period of 18 years, the actual out-of-pocket cash investment into the said businesses by my brothers and wife has been about $73,950. It is further pointed out that out of $73,950, my wife’s contribution, as stated aforesaid, is $19,492. Thus, the total out-of-pocket cash contribution of my five brothers, over a period of eighteen years, has been $54,458,” he said.
He also rubbished allegations about the businesses of his children. The manner in which Bajwa managed everything suggests he is more ‘special’ than General. He has shown that one can loot and shoot at the same time, no need to scoot.