Pakistan army general, CPEC project chief faces corruption heat

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Asim Saleem Bajwa, the former Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (media wing of the Pakistan’s armed forces) and the incumbent chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is facing corruption heat after an investigation report by the Ahmad Noorani, a Pakistani journalist living in the United States, raised suspicions about Bajwa family’s assets and investments overseas. This report has caused a deep divide among the public where some are demanding thorough accountability on Bajwa and his family, and others are admonishing Noorani as a ‘RAW agent’ and the report as ‘propaganda.’

The aforesaid report, published on FactFocus on Aug. 27 by Ahmed Noorani, claims that Bajwa family’s business empire – which includes 99 companies and two malls established in the US, Canada, Pakistan and UAE – grew in sync with his ascent on the military ladder. The family also owns a Pizza franchise, the largest privately held franchise of Papa John’s International, with 133 restaurants worth an estimated $39.9 million. 

According to the report, the Bajwa family spent $14.5 million worth of real estate and invested $52.2 million more to erect their business in the United States. All of these companies were called the ‘Bajco group.’ The Bajco companies were then brought under a single parent company – Bajco Global Management LLC registered both in the United States and in Pakistan. 

Ahmed Noorani, the author of the report, claims that the Bajwa Empire grew in sync with Asim Bajwa’s military career. Bajwa’s brothers, Nadeem, Faisal and Abdul Malik, went to the US in the 1990s. Talking to DW Urdu, Noorani said that the family was not in the financial position to set up a business in a country like the US. All that changed in 2002, the year Asim Bajwa became Staff Officer with the military dictator Parvez Musharraf. The very year, Bajwa’s brother opened their first Papa John’s franchise in the US. Slowly and gradually, the business grew: in 2007, Asim Bajwa rose to the designation of the commander of the 111 Brigade, an infantry brigade notorious for facilitating military Coup d’états. In this Bajwa headed infantry brigade till May 2008, and was then appointed as the chief of staff of the commander of Mangla corps. In these 7 years, the Bajwa family started 53 pizza franchises and 25 companies in the US, Canada and Pakistan. At that point, the number of companies associated with Asim Bajwa and his wife had drastically increased from 0 to 26. 

From 2009-11, Bajwa served as the staff officer to the commander of Mangla corps and as a district commander, considerably low-powered positions compared to his position with Musharraf. The Bajwa family started 25 Pizza franchises and five companies in the US in this period. 

From 2012-16, Bajwa served as the Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations. He is credited for bringing a ‘digital revolution’ in the ISPR. In these four years. In this period, the Bajwa family opened 43 companies in three countries, owned seven commercial and two residential properties, and started 75 Pizza franchises. 

In 2017, Asim Bajwa was promoted as the Commander of the Southern Command and served at the position until September 2019. Southern Command is centered in Balochistan; this paved the way for him to become the chairman of the CPEC authority. In these two years, the Bajwa family opened 26 companies, 25 Pizza franchises and bought six commercial and two residential properties.  

Since 2015, Bajwa’s sons owned 13 companies worth tens of millions of dollars in real estate, cosmetics, beverages, mining and construction. According to the report, Farrukh Zeba, Bajwa’s wife, owns an estimated $52.7 million share in the companies jointly owned by the Bajwa family. 

In November 2019, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appointed Asim Bajwa as to lead the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the multi-billion dollars ‘flagship project’ of China’s broader, expansionist Belt and Road Initiative to dominate the global trade. In June this year, Bajwa joined in as the special assistant to the Prime Minister. In his declaration of assets and liabilities, Bajwa declared an investment of $18,468 (3.1 million pkr) in his wife’s name. In this declaration, Bajwa categorically declared that neither he nor his spouse owns any kind of ‘immovable property’ (land, building, companies) outside of Pakistan. At that point, his sons owned 13 companies and his wife was associated with 85 companies. 

Ahmed Noorani’s report has exposed a great divide among the public: on one side are the pro-military, fervid ‘patriots’ who have admonished Noorani as a ‘RAW agent’ and an ‘anti-Pakistani’ propagandist on social media. On the other side of the divide are those who demand a thorough investigation of Bajwa’s family. Few hours after the report was published, Asim Bajwa took to Twitter to deny the allegations. “A malicious propaganda story published on an unknown site, against me and my family, (just uploaded on social media) is strongly rebutted.” Many users, including researchers and journalists, asked Bajwa to refute the allegations by offering counter-evidence and get done with the issue altogether.

Asked on Twitter whether Asim Bajwa’s sons were involved in the family business and whether his ascent on the military ladder was synchronous with the expansion of the business, Malik Bajwa, Asim Bajwa’s brother, replied: “There are three persons running the company, Nadeem Bajwa, Faisal Bajwa and myself. None of his son is involved in Bajco. Website clearly shows the entire expansion history which started from 2006 and always used Bank financing which is available on very low interest rate.”

Another user asked clarification on the corruption allegations levelled on Bajwa, to which his brother replied; “My dear, Bajco Group was formed in 2002, and all the information is available on our website http://bajco.net . General Asim Bajwa has nothing to do with this business. We started this company with some family friends in the USA and most of the money was borrowed from Bank.” 

After the report was published, a campaign was launched on social media to connect those raising questions about the Bajwa family business with the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Bajwa’s son personally tweeted blogs and photos of the report’s author, Ahmed Noraani, implying that he was colluding with India to attack Asim Bajwa and CPEC.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, questioned the authenticity of Noorani’s report, saying that the truth will become clear soon. He blamed Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and a critic of the mighty military, of “doing politics” while sitting in a foreign country. He said that the circulation of unconfirmed reports has become common on social media, but the government will soon reveal if there’s any truth in the allegations. “It is now a common practice that the news is run without confirmation. A news should be made public once it is confirmed. The truth in this case will come to the fore soon”, he said on Friday.

Ahmed Noorani, meanwhile, has maintained his stance. In an interview with DW Urdu, Noorani openly challenged the CPEC chief to refute the report and the statistics. 

A few months ago, another such story broke the internet and opened a chasm among the public on Asim Bajwa’s fidelity to the country. Bajwa owns a vehicle, a Toyota ZX 2016, that costs no less than 30 million PKR in the market. Bajwa, on the other hand, said that he’d bought this swanky vehicle for 3 million, one-tenth of its original market value. This created a massive outcry: a campaign was launched on social media where thousands of users mocked Bajwa for this ‘blatant lie’ and demanded money trail.

SourceTBP

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