Pandora Papers undrape corrupt leaders

Federal cabinet members named among 700 Pakistanis hiding offshore assets


Rizwan Shehzad   October 04, 2021
ICIJ to release the “most expansive exposé of financial secrecy yet” on Sunday. SCREENGRAB

ISLAMABAD:

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) opened a Pandora’s box – a massive trove of private financial records dubbed ‘Pandora Papers’– on Sunday night naming national and international personalities among 700 Pakistanis, including cabinet members, allegedly hiding financial secrets via offshore companies.

The ICIJ stated that key members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers, their families and major financial backers have secretly owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars of hidden wealth. The ICIJ said that military leaders have also been implicated but the “documents contain no suggestion that Khan himself owns offshore companies”.

In line with his narrative of anti-corruption and accountability, Premier Imran “welcomed” the Pandora Papers and vowed to investigate all those Pakistanis named in it, saying “if any wrongdoing is established we will take appropriate action”.

Political temperature was high since the announcement was made that the details about leaked papers would be shared on Sunday night. Political commentators were quick to add that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s name was also not included in the Panama papers but it would be interesting to see if the opposition parties would be able to take any advantage of the Pandora Papers just like Imran took against the previous government after Panama Papers’ scandal had emerged.

Among those whose holdings have been exposed are Imran’s finance minister, Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, and his family, and the son of Imran’s former adviser on finance and revenue Waqar Masood Khan. The records also reveal offshore dealings of a top PTI donor, Arif Naqvi, who is facing fraud charges in the United States.

Journalist Umar Cheema, who along with his colleague from a local newspaper, Fakhar Durrani, was part of the ICIJ investigations revealed that over 700 Pakistanis were named in the Pandora Papers and they secretly moved millions offshore, saying utmost efforts were made to ensure accuracy in the report and it was now up to the authorities concerned to move ahead.

Apparently, much of the space in the ICIJ’s story on Pakistan is given to explaining background and efforts have been made to connect dots. However, several names of Pakistanis allegedly involved in the scandal came through the Pakistani journalists working with ICIJ when they appeared on television. The ICIJ story doesn’t reveal all the names or provides any link of all the Pakistanis whose names have claimed to be found in the secret documents.

The journalists told a private news channel that the exposé named Tarin, Senator Faisal Vawda, PML-Q’s Moonis Elahi, Ishaq Dar’s son Ali Dar, PPP’s Sharjeel Memon, the brother of Minister for Industries and Production, Khusro Bakhtiar, PTI leader Abdul Aleem Khan, Mir Shakeelur Rehman, Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh among others, who allegedly have links to offshore companies.

"It is unfortunate that in Pakistan accountability is very selective, and people are targeted; the aim is not to hold people accountable but to remove opponents from one’s path," Cheema said, adding that the Panama Papers – which led to the downfall of former PM Sharif – had also taken the world by storm but the matter later fizzled out.

The ICIJ files show that the ruling party’s key political ally, Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, planned to put the proceeds from an allegedly corrupt business deal into a secret trust, concealing them from Pakistan’s tax authorities. They said that Omer Bakhtiar, the brother of Khusro Bakhtiar, transferred a $1 million apartment in the Chelsea area of London to his elderly mother through an offshore company in 2018.

The son of Waqar Masood Khan co-owned a company based in the British Virgin Islands. The report said that the former PTI minister for water resources, Faisal Vawda, set up an offshore company in 2012 to invest in UK properties, ICIJ said.

The ICIJ claimed that Naqvi, the financier and major donor of Imran’s 2013 campaign, owned several offshore companies and another leading businessman and another PTI donor, Tariq Shafi, held $215 million through offshore companies.

The Pandora Papers reveal that in 2007, the wife of Gen Shafaatullah Shah, then one of Pakistan’s leading generals and a former aide to president Pervez Musharraf, acquired a $1.2 million apartment in London through a discreet offshore transaction.

The Pandora Papers also reveal that Raja Nadir Pervez, a retired army lieutenant colonel and former government minister, owned International Finance and Equipment Ltd, a BVI-registered company.

Another influential former military leader who shows up in the leaked documents is Maj Gen Nusrat Naeem, the ISI’s onetime director general of counterintelligence. He owned a BVI company, Afghan Oil and Gas Ltd, which was registered in 2009, shortly after his retirement.

While naming close relatives of three senior military figures, the report said, Umar and Ahad Khattak, sons of the former head of Pakistan Air Force, Abbas Khattak, in 2010 registered a BVI company to invest what documents call “family business earnings” in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate.

The ICIJ reiterated that the Pandora Papers reveal that PM Imran has surrounded himself with people – cabinet ministers and their families, donors and other political allies – who have holdings hidden offshore.

The ICIJ’s investigation is a result of 600 journalists in 117 countries studying for months roughly 11.9 million documents that leaked from the offshore environment. The project named the Pandora Papers is in reference to the Greek mythology’s character in whose box would be all the ills of humanity.

 

 

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