Elusive Panama leaks briefing angers MPs

Published: September 9, 2016
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PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD / ISLAMABAD: Crescendoing calls for an independent inquiry into Panamagate have fallen on deaf ears as the government continues to evade meaningful action on the revelations in the Panama Papers that hundreds of Pakistani politicians, including the ruling Sharif family, and businessmen feature in the offshore archive.

Denmark is learnt to have bought data from the Panama leaks to investigate whether 500 to 600 Danes named there may have evaded tax. Conversely in Pakistan, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Nisar Muhammad Khan and treasury lawmakers on Thursday successfully blocked a fifth attempt by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance to get an institutional response to Panamagate.

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Not only that, the heads of four state institutions – National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) – skipped a special session of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the massive tax evasion scandal.

The FBR chairman refused to give a briefing to the parliamentary panel on the pretext that the matter was not on its agenda. The committee has been seeking a briefing from the FBR for the last five months to identify legal lacunae that allowed the illegal capital flight from the country.

Only last week, the FBR issued letters to those who figured in the Panama leaks to seek information, which, legal experts say, was not a serious action. The SECP has identified 444 persons named in the Panama Papers, but has excused itself from taking any action.

Opposition legislators blamed Qaiser Sheikh the PAC chairman who belongs to the PML-N, for not putting the issue on the agenda. Nisar, on the other hand, admitted that he was prepared to give a briefing to the PAC, which met on the same day, but even the parliamentary anti-corruption watchdog could not debate the issue due to the absence of the heads of NAB, FIA, SBP and SECP.

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The PAC was forced to issue summons of these officials to bind them to attend the panel’s September 20 meeting.

“This is a disgrace to parliament,” was the unanimous response of the PAC, but some members found the absence of the four top officials conspicuous.

“It is a planned move and the government is behind it,” PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi told reporters after the meeting. “Government institutions are not performing their roles due to the involvement of the Sharif family in the Panama scam,” said PTI MNA Dr Arif Alvi, who had requisitioned the special PAC huddle.

When PAC members asked why the SBP governor did not attend the panel meeting, they were told the head of the central bank was busy in connection with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Karachi.

At this, panel chairman Khursheed Shah of the PPP said the SBP should have informed PAC beforehand and not on the meeting day. He pointed out that his party, when in power, had issued directions stating that the PAC should be given precedence over cabinet meetings.

Though the SECP gave the same excuse as the SBP, the committee got no answers about the absence of others. The NAB chief also informed PAC of his unavailability. “Did the FIA director general also receive a call from the premier,” asked the PAC members.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had promised that a legal package to address the Panama Papers issue will be announced by August in consultation with FBR, SBP and SECP. He also could not fulfill this promise.

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The dilly-dallying approach has been adopted despite an SECP investigation confirming that 444 persons whose names appeared on the website of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) are related to Pakistan, according to commission’s letter to the PAC.

The SECP letter stated that these persons are officers and owners of 280 offshore companies mentioned in the Panama Papers. Of these 444 persons, 155 were found to be directors of 600 companies registered in Pakistan, according to the SECP letter.

However, the SECP absolved itself from taking any action against these persons, saying that these companies did not make investments in offshore companies. “The investments as mentioned in the Panama Papers were made by the persons in their individual capacity and same has not been routed through the company’s accounts,” it wrote.

Independent legal experts say SECP’s stance that it cannot take any action against these persons is unlawful. They said Section 101 of the Securities Act of 2015 binds every director to disclose their beneficial ownership and hiding such information would make them liable to punishment.

While the government remains reluctant to move against those who have been named in the Panama Papers, Denmark has become the first country in the world to buy data from the leaks. It now plans to investigate whether 500 to 600 Danes, who feature in the offshore archive, have evaded tax, according to The Guardian newspaper. Denmark’s Tax Minister Karsten Lauritzen, was quoted as saying that he would pay up to 9 million Danish Krones (or £1 million) for the information.

The Panama Papers, published in April, were the biggest leak in history. There are details of offshore companies – half of them incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, a UK tax haven – as well as of secret beneficial owners.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Haji Atiya
    Sep 9, 2016 - 9:19AM

    Looks like the crooks have circled their wagons for the long haul !Recommend

  • JP
    Sep 9, 2016 - 9:22AM

    Protect the corrupt this is the way forward for Demo-Crazy in Pakistan. This is the only reason we are lacking basic necessities of life here.
    Corruption is the root cause of economic disturbance here. We do not need any more enemies.
    I fear this will further continue for decades. Looters will never be satisfied. Lets pray for our Country, only Allah can protect us from these evil forces.Recommend

  • Sheffield steel
    Sep 9, 2016 - 9:44AM

    I, like many people believed that IK was liar and NS was innocent but i feel i have been let down by my hero NS and what IK has been saying all along about all the institutions being used to protect the Sharifs has proven to be correct. I feel such a fool.Recommend

  • Pakistan
    Sep 9, 2016 - 9:52AM

    It is now for the Parliamentarians to take a stand to this rebuke from PML N. This proves the involvement of Nawaz Sharif to an extent. The officials who absented must be suspended till they send their explanation. This amounts to tyranny.Recommend

  • Gullu butt
    Sep 9, 2016 - 9:57AM

    It is an international agenda to bring crooks to the power to make the country economy hollow so it can be broken easily just like yogoslavia.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Sep 9, 2016 - 10:32AM

    How is this news?!!Recommend

  • Rehmat Ali
    Sep 9, 2016 - 10:53AM

    People of Punjab & Sindh vote corrupt politicians and whole country suffer for next 5 years. This cycle is going on again and again since many decades due to current electoral system totally failed in Pakistan.Unless this feudal system changed no any single sign of betterment.Recommend

  • Haris
    Sep 9, 2016 - 10:54AM

    IK has been continuously pointing out about these corruption roots, even before all this Panama leaks……still Pakistanis have buried their heads in sand.Recommend

  • Bash gul
    Sep 9, 2016 - 11:00AM

    If former presidents like Nixon and Carter could face inquiries, why cant the royal house of Sharifs? Why this dilly dallying tactic. God have pity on us Pakistanis, who are actually responsible for voting for such leaders. Those mostly in the government have nothing to lose, coz their assets and interests are all abroad. They make hay in the name of democracy, and looks like our MNAs and MPAs are puppets on a string.Recommend

  • MA
    Sep 9, 2016 - 11:28AM

    dont worry about Panama Paprs folks. we have motor ways and roads coming our way. Recommend

  • Parvez
    Sep 9, 2016 - 11:41AM

    The saying ‘ WHEN ALL ARE GUILTY, THEN NONE ARE GUILTY ‘ hold good.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts
    Sep 9, 2016 - 12:40PM

    @Pakistani: Is that you Mr. Prime Minister?Recommend

  • salman
    Sep 9, 2016 - 12:47PM

    @Acorn Guts:
    Lol, good guess.Recommend

  • salman
    Sep 9, 2016 - 12:50PM

    I wonder if any of our anti-ik pmln cheerleaders will make an appearance on this thread.

    Looks like all institutions have been compromised. We might as well just make corruption legal, outlaw tax, so these institutions can be shut down. What use are they anyway?Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Sep 9, 2016 - 2:35PM

    @Acorn Guts:
    hahahahaa…well said. Recommend

  • Whatacountry
    Sep 9, 2016 - 3:06PM

    @Pakistani:
    demoralising.Recommend

  • Whatacountry
    Sep 9, 2016 - 3:11PM

    I just wonder how would all PML N employees must be facing their kids and family from top to bottom! But then we have an example of our Prime Minister! Need I say more?Recommend

  • M A Khan
    Sep 9, 2016 - 6:04PM

    Well said Mr Salman, I agree.Recommend

  • syed & syed
    Sep 10, 2016 - 2:10AM

    A great peace of facts. First of all heads of departments mentioned including PAC chief( a man of PMLN be removed. Surprisingly what the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is doing in this regard. Is this institution also following the foot steps of the discussed departmental headsRecommend

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