Aleema Khanum has been slapped with a hefty fine of Rs29.4 million for her failure to pay tax on properties abroad.  A three-judge Supreme Court bench on Thursday, while hearing a case against 44 politically exposed individuals or their ‘benamidars’ who possess properties in the United Arab Emirates, gave the order.

This case has drawn considerable attention in political and media circles due to Ms Aleema’s nexus to the Prime Minister, with many conflating the punishment handed out to Aleema, that of paying a heavy fine, with the sentences passed to Maryam and Nawaz Sharif- who were given seven and ten years respectively for forging false documents, and for assets beyond means, by an Accountability Court in July. The contrast between the treatment of the two political entities is not entirely accurate- Nawaz Sharif was in public office at the time of the purchase of properties and his conviction was based more than just tax evasion- it was according to the NAB ordinance, which demands a public office holder to provide a money trail. Aleema, in comparison, is not a public office holder at the time of purchase- nor has she been unable to provide a money trail.

Yet the two different situations of Maryam and Aleema do provide an interesting case study for the crime of tax evasion- and how it is used in politics to take out certain players. Tax evasion causes a serious burden for fiscal deficit in Pakistan, and continuing evasion, despite the constant amnesty schemes, must be taken very seriously. The question this case should demand is why tax evasion of millions of rupees is let off easily if the offenders are not related to public office holders- and whether difference in job title merits dissimilar treatment. Perhaps it is time the Court should start cracking down harder on admitted tax evaders to send a stronger message.