EDITORIAL: It is said that Prime Minister Imran Khan wants prompt action against the wrongdoers (the 700 Pakistanis named in the Pandora Papers). He has, therefore, set up a high-powered three-member cell to investigate if any irregularity had been committed by 700 Pakistanis, including cabinet ministers, politicians, retired generals and owners of media houses. According to the investigation mandate, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) will handle the cases of cabinet members; the cases of tax evasion and money laundering will be referred to NAB, FIA (Federal Investigation Agency), FBR (Federal Board of Revenue) and Pemra (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) and federal information ministry. Law Minister Farogh Naseem will look after all the legal matters of the cell. “We welcome the Pandora Papers exposing the ill-gotten wealth of elites, accumulated through tax evasion and corruption and laundered out to financial havens,” the prime minister tweeted as he ordered the formation of an investigation cell. Given the fact that among the 700 named persons there are three federal cabinet ministers and others who are members of his party, it is certainly a huge challenge for the prime minister. This challenge became more arduous after opposition parties rejected his plan to have the cases investigated by ‘prime minister’s cell’. The opposition says the cell is only an eye-wash. Their demand is that the prime minister’s approach to the Pandora Papers must be identical to the one that he adopted in relation to the case of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif following the emergence of the Panama Papers. While JUI (F) leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman claims that the majority of “thieves” named in the leaked papers belongs to the cabinet of Imran Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami chief has demanded prime minister expel the Pandora-tainted ministers from the Cabinet.
The basic question is whether or not the persons named in the Pandora Papers are really guilty of committing the offences attributed to them or their actions were within the parameters of the law. Their responses largely suggest that they had done nothing illegal. Establishing a company abroad, including in any so-called safe haven, is no crime per se. It becomes a crime when the transfer of funds involved is transferred through illegal channels. Likewise, it becomes a crime only if the taxes were not paid on the transferred money which was invested in the cursed safe havens or such funds were proceeds of crime. Given the apparent enormity of the investigation task, the cell will certainly take time to complete it in a judicious and transparent manner. It is, however, needless to say that the presumption of innocence is a legal principle that every person accused of any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021