- The probe is said to be based on more than 11.9 million confidential files from 14 offshore services
ISLAMABAD: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday "unveiled" its Pandora Papers. The exposé named Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Senator Faisal Vawda, 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 among those with alleged links to offshore companies.
In his response, finance minister Shaukat Tarin said that he "has done nothing wrong and is ready for any kind of investigation". According to him, a developer, namely Tariq bin Laden, had shown interest in making investment in Silk Bank through fundraising from Europe when the bank was facing the issue of capital. Subsequently, he said that Tariq bin Laden decided not to invest in Silk Bank and the companies - opened with the approval of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) - were shut down in 2014-15.
"Neither any account of the companies was opened nor was any transaction made," he said, adding that he had the documentary proof of everything.
Tarin further said that no question of tax evasion arises when the companies were opened with the approval of the SBP. He said that his all the assets are duly declared assets.
The files "show" how Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, a key political ally of Imran Khan, purportedly planned to put the proceeds from an allegedly corrupt business deal into a secret trust, concealing them from Pakistan's tax authorities. Elahi did not respond to ICIJ's repeated requests for comment. Yesterday, however, a family spokesman told ICIJ's media partners that, "due to political victimisation misleading interpretations and data have been circulated in files for nefarious reasons." He added that the family's assets "are declared as per applicable law".
According to Papers, Tarin and members of his family own four offshore companies. According to Tariq Fawad Malik, a financial consultant who handled the paperwork on the companies, they were set up as part of the Tarin family's intended investment in a bank with a Saudi business. He said that "as a mandatory prerequisite by [the] regulator, we engaged with the central bank of Pakistan to obtain their 'in-principle' approval for the said strategic investment." The deal didn't proceed.
Tarin is said to have not responded to ICIJ's questions. In a statement issued the day of the Pandora Papers' publication, Tarin said: "The off-shore companies mentioned were incorporated as part of the fund-raising process for my bank."
Omer Bakhtyar, the brother of Khan's minister for industries, Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar, transferred a $1 million apartment in the Chelsea area of London to his elderly mother through an offshore company in 2018. In a written statement to ICIJ, Makhdum Bakhtyar said that the anti-corruption agency's investigation was founded on baseless allegations which had underestimated his family's past wealth, and that it has so far not resulted in a formal complaint.
The son of former federal finance secretary and special assistant to prime minister Dr Waqar Masood Khan is said to have co-owned a company based in the British Virgin Islands. Khan told ICIJ that he did not know what his son's company did. He said his son lived a "modest life, and was not his financial dependent.
And PTI government's former minister for water resources, Faisal Vawda, set up an offshore company in 2012 to invest in U.K. properties, the Pandora Papers claim. He resigned in March amid a controversy over his status as a dual national. Vawda told ICIJ that he had declared all worldwide assets held in his name to Pakistani tax authorities.
The probe is said to be based on more than 11.9 million confidential files from 14 offshore services firms leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with 150 news organizations around the world.
The Pandora Papers "reveal" that in 2007, the wife of Gen. Shafaat Ullah Shah, then a former aide to President Pervez Musharraf, acquired a $1.2 million apartment in London through a discreet offshore transaction.
The property was transferred to Gen. Shah's wife by an offshore company owned by Akbar Asif, a wealthy businessman who has opened restaurants in London and Dubai. Asif is the son of the Indian film director K Asif. The younger Asif once met with Musharraf at London's Dorchester Hotel to ask for an exception to Pakistan's 40-year ban on Indian films to allow the release of one of his father's most acclaimed movies. Musharraf granted the exception and later lifted the ban.
The leaked documents show that Asif has owned a multimillion-dollar property portfolio through a web of offshore companies.
One of those companies, called Talah Ltd. and registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), was used to transfer the London apartment to Shafaat Shah's wife. Talah bought an apartment near the Canary Wharf financial district in 2006. The next year, Asif transferred ownership of the company to Fariha Shah.
Asif's sister, Heena Kausar, is the widow of Iqbal Mirchi, a senior figure in a leading organised crime group, D-company. Mirchi was at the time under sanction as a drug trafficker by the U.S. Before his death in 2013, Mirchi was one of India's most wanted men.
Shah told ICIJ that the purchase of the London apartment had been made through a former army colleague then acting as a consultant to London real estate firms, not through any personal connection to Asif. Shah said the flat "was named" to his wife because "I already had properties in my name while she did not have any and to balance tax deductions."
Shah said that his wife has never met Asif and that he met him just once, while an aide to Musharraf, when Asif briefly lobbied the president for his father's film "in the corridors of Dorchester Hotel when he had accompanied the hairstylist, who had come to cut Mrs Musharraf's hair."
The Pandora Papers also reveal that Raja Nadir Pervez, a retired army lieutenant colonel and former minister, owned International Finance & Equipment Ltd, a BVI-registered company. In the leaked files, the firm is "involved" in machinery and related businesses in India, Thailand, Russia and China. Records "show" that in 2003, Pervez transferred his shares in the company to a trust that controls several offshore companies.
The newly leaked records "reveal" the use of offshore services by Pakistan's elites that rivals the findings of the Panama Papers, which led to Sharif's downfall and helped propel Imran Khan to power three years ago.
Another former military leader who shows up in the leaked documents is Maj. Gen. Nusrat Naeem, the ISI's onetime director-general of counterintelligence. He purportedly owned a BVI company, Afghan Oil & Gas Ltd, that was registered in 2009, shortly after his retirement. He said that the company had been set up by a friend and that he didn't use it for any financial transactions.
Umar and Ahad Khattak, sons of the former head of Pakistan's 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 Khattaks did not respond to reporters' questions.
Arif Naqvi, the alleged financier and major donor to Khan's 2013 campaign, owned several offshore companies. The files "show" that in 2017, Naqvi transferred ownership of UK holdings - three luxury apartments, his country estate and a property in London's suburbs - into an offshore trust operated by Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank declined to respond to ICIJ's concerning the beneficiaries of the trust.
Tariq Shafi, a leading businessman and another alleged PTI donor, held $215 million through offshore companies, the records "show". Neither Shafi nor Naqvi responded to ICIJ's questions.
Earlier, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has said that 'Pandora Papers' would further strengthen Prime Minister Imran Khan's stance against corruption and ICIJ investigation would open new avenues of transparency and corruption.
On Sunday, ahead of the announced release of 'Pandora Papers' by the International Consortium of Investigative journalism, the minister for information stated in a series of tweets that if the details disclosed that wealth of the poor countries was transferred abroad in Pandora Papers like Panama, it would further strengthen the stance of Prime Minister Khan.
"We hope that this investigation, like the Panama investigation, will open new avenues of transparency and discourage corruption", he further stated. The minister said that the overseas assets of some of the world's most corrupt people were uncovered in Panama Papers, now another ICIJ investigation is being released. The Prime Minister has urged the rich countries to discourage hiding of money stolen of the poor in the rich countries, he added.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021