Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Panama Papers: leak opens Pandora’s Box in Pakistan: By Farooq Awan

ISLAMABAD: The Panama leaks have whipped a storm of controversy over off-shore wealth of the political elite of Pakistan, especially the ruling Sharif family.

In a snowballing scandal, the unprecedented confidential documents leaked from one of the world’s most secretive companies, Mossack Fonseca, reveal how the rich and powerful across the world use tax havens to hide their wealth.
More than 200 Pakistanis including lawmakers, lawyers, people from the judiciary and businessmen have been identified in the report, available on the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The report, being dubbed only the tip of the iceberg, contains names of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s relatives, Benazir Bhutto, Javed Pasha, Senator Rehman Malik, Senator Osman Saifullah’s family, Waseem Gulzar, Zain Sukhera (a co-accused with former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son in the Hajj scandal), serving judge of Lahore High Court Justice Farrukh Irfan; retired judge Malik Qayyum, owner of Hilton Pharma Shehbaz Yasin Malik, Chairman ABM Group of Companies Azam Sultan, Pizza Hut owner Aqeel Hussain, Chairman Soorty Enterprise Abdul Rashid Soorty, hotel tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani, real estate czar Malik Riaz Hussain’s son, Hussain Dawood family, Abdullah family of Sapphire Textiles, Gul Muhammad Tabba of Lucky Textiles, Shahid Nazir of Masood Textiles, Zulfiqar Ali Lakhani of Lakson Group and Zulfiqar Paracha of Universal Corporation (Pvt) Ltd, among several others.
Though Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself does not own any company, three of his children – Maryam Nawaz, Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz – are among those named in the leaks, with records showing they owned London real estate through offshore companies administrated by the firm.

The leaks have put severe pressure especially on the ruling Sharif family to clear their position on a volley of questions rising in the minds of millions of people who have voted them into power. The Sharifs need to satisfy the nation as to what was the source of this huge wealth that they have stashed abroad; why didn’t they declare these assets to the tax department and the Election Commission of Pakistan; what prompted them to secret away their money in offshore jurisdictions.
It is also interesting to note that while the ruling Sharifs are every other day heard giving sermons to overseas Pakistanis as well as foreign entrepreneurs to invest their money in Pakistan, ironically their own wealth is off limits for use in their own country’s development and progress.

While some opposition leaders have called for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to be investigated over his family’s wealth stashed abroad, his son Hussain Nawaz maintained that all their business affairs were ‘legal’.

A defiant Hussain said that they had done ‘nothing wrong’. “Those apartments are ours and those offshore companies are also ours,” he said, as he fully owned the revelations made in the leaks. He was bold enough to declare that the British law and laws of other countries provide a legal way to avoid unnecessary tax via offshore companies, and that the leaks had made no allegations of wrongdoing against the Sharif family. He said that they have been residing in Saudi Arabia and US for over two decades, hence Pakistani tax laws didn’t apply to them and nor were they legally bound to declare their assets to the Pakistani authorities. “However, we have been diligently filing our company reports and tax returns in our legal tax jurisdictions,” he said.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan was quick to call for action against Sharifs after the release. “Our stance vindicated again as Sharifs wealth stashed abroad exposed,” he tweeted, calling upon the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), tax authorities and the Election Commission of Pakistan to take action.

To Imran Khan’s call for NAB to launch investigation, Hussain said, “We voluntarily present ourselves before NAB or any other judicial or investigative institution in Pakistan.”

Analysts believe while the use of offshore companies was in many cases legitimate, still Sharifs, being the political leaders of the country, will be hard pressed to take the privacy defence given the worldwide move towards a better track of money, tax evasion, laundering and corruption.


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