Labelled the “most expansive exposé of financial secrecy after the release of the ‘Panama Papers’ in 2016”, the ‘Pandora Papers’ revealed names of Pakistan finance minister Shaukat Tarin and PTI Senator Faisal Vawda among many others, as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) started to report on a two-year long investigation on Sunday.
From Pakistan, Umar Cheema and Fakhar Durrani of The News participated in the research.
Geo News reported that more than 700 Pakistanis in total have been named in the investigation.
The ‘Pandora Papers’ is a leak of almost 12 million documents that reveals hidden wealth, tax avoidance and, in some cases, money laundering by some of the world’s rich and powerful.
However, while there are also a number of legitimate reasons people want to hold money and assets in different countries, such as protection from criminal attacks or guarding against unstable governments, the issue is acute in Pakistan that frowns upon holding offshore money.
PML-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, Ishaq Dar’s son, PPP’s Sharjeel Memon, the family of Minister for Industries and Production Khusro Bakhtiar, PTI leader Abdul Aleem Khan, Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh, as well as others were among those reported to have alleged links to offshore companies, according to the ICIJ report.
After the report, Minister for Finance Shaukat Tarin took to Twitter to clarify his position.
Ishaq Dar’s son, Ali Dar, also took to Twitter to explain.
What is the ‘Pandora Papers’?
The ICIJ, a global network of 280 investigative journalists in more than 100 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories, said that a 2.94 terabyte data trove revealed “names of members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, high-rank former military officers, as well as renowned business and political personalities, own secret offshore assets”.
The investigation is based on a leak of confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that give professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in low- or no-tax jurisdictions, said the ICIJ. “The entities enable owners to conceal their identities from the public and sometimes from regulators. Often, the providers help them open bank accounts in countries with light financial regulation.”
The 2.94 terabytes of data, leaked to ICIJ and shared with media partners around the world, arrived in various formats: as documents, images, emails, spreadsheets, and more.
More than 330 politicians and 130 Forbes billionaires, as well as celebrities, fraudsters, drug dealers, royal family members and leaders of religious groups around the world feature in the list.
‘Pandora Papers’ could further validate PM Imran’s stance on money-laundering: Fawad
“Among those whose holdings have been exposed are Khan’s finance minister, Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, and his family, and the son of Khan’s former adviser for finance and revenue, Waqar Masood Khan, Punjab provincial minister Aleem Khan, and PTI Senator Faisal Vawda,” the ICIJ said in its report.
The records also reveal the offshore dealings of a top PTI donor, Arif Naqvi, who is facing charges in the United States.
The leaked papers revealed that 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”.
Though the minister did not respond to any ICIJ’s request for comments, one of his family spokespersons called it “political victimisation”.
“Due to political victimisation, misleading interpretations and data have been circulated in files for nefarious reasons,” the spokesperson said, adding that the family’s assets “are declared as per applicable law.”
Panama fears could be hit by new ICIJ ‘Pandora Papers’ leak
Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the government will “investigate all citizens mentioned in the Pandora Papers & if any wrongdoing is established we will take appropriate action.”
“I call on the international community to treat this grave injustice as similar to the climate change crisis,” tweeted Khan after ICIJ’s report.
King of Jordan, Czech prime minister named
Additionally, the King of Jordan and the Czech prime minister have hidden millions in offshore tax havens, according to the ICIJ investigation.
The documents notably expose how King Abdullah II created a network of offshore companies and tax havens to amass a $100 million property empire from Malibu, California to Washington and London.
The BBC cited lawyers for King Abdullah saying all the properties were bought with personal wealth, and that it was common practice for high profile individuals to purchase properties via offshore companies for privacy and security reasons.
The documents also show Czech Prime minister Andrej Babis — facing an election later this week — failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth $22 million in the south of France.
In total, the ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others.
More than two-thirds of the companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.
In most countries, the ICIJ stresses, it is not illegal to have assets offshore or to use shell companies to do business across national borders.
Among the other revelations from the ICIJ investigation:
— Family and associates of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are alleged to have been secretly involved in property deals in Britain worth hundreds of millions.
— Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and six family members are alleged to secretly own a network of offshore companies.
— Members of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers and their families, are said to secretly own companies and trusts holding millions of dollars.
— Russian President Vladimir Putin is not directly named in the files, but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco.
The ‘Pandora Papers’ are the latest in a series of mass ICIJ leaks of financial documents that started with LuxLeaks in 2014, and was followed by the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers and FinCen.
The documents behind the latest investigation are drawn from financial services companies in countries including the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Switzerland.