Opposition rejects govt’s probe committee on Pandora Papers

Hassan Naqvi Staff Reporter

07th Oct, 2021. 03:41 pm
Pandora Papers

PM Imran Khan’s ‘high-level cell’ starts investigating individuals in Pandora Papers. Image: ICIJ

The Pandora Papers leaked to the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) recently have fallen short of creating the sort of storm caused by the Panama Leaks five years ago.

However, since they include the names of 700 Pakistanis including Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet members, businessmen, investors, retired generals and media owners among others, a lot of hue and cry has been made by the Opposition as well as the critics who have rejected the cell formed by Prime Minister Imran Khan to investigate offshore firm owners and have demanded of the govt officials and ministers named in the documents to immediately step down.

Vice President Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Senator Sherry Rehman said, “We do not accept a government committee where they will investigate their own people. When it comes to the opposition, NAB is involved in the first instance and a media trial begins but when it comes to their own, the government has formed a committee. We do not support media trials but the rules should not be different for the opposition”.

“Where is the money trail now? Why are they not taking this issue to the court? No one should be above the law. This will certainly not be an independent neutral committee and will be biased so, how can we accept it? If JITs can be formed for the opposition then why is the same not being done in this case?” Sherry questioned.

Talking to Bol News, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal said with the emergence of Pandora Leaks a new Pandora’s box is opened against PM Imran.

“The so-called leader who used to present himself as Sadiq and Ameen (Honest and Trustworthy) has two more offshore companies now,” Iqbal alleged.

The PML-N secretary general recalled that even before the Pandora Papers were released the spokespersons of PTI and PM Imran had started defending the premier.

Jamiat e Islami Ameer Siraj ul Haq told Bol News that the federal ministers whose names appeared in Pandora Leaks must resign immediately and if they are approved innocent later they might be reinstated.

It may be mentioned here that Prime Minister Imran Khan had expressed the resolve to investigate all the people across the board named in the Pandora Papers. “Appropriate action would be taken if any wrongdoing is established,” the premier said, forming a committee to probe into the revelations made by Pandora Paper Leaks.

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry later announced that the PM has formed a high level special cell to probe the Pandora Leaks. “The premier has set-up a high level cell headed by the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission to investigate the Pandora Leaks which will present the facts to the masses,” he said.

Sources told Bol News that after PM Imran held a meeting to discuss leaks and the overall political situation with senior PTI leaders and federal ministers he came up with this development.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other law enforcement agencies have been tasked to probe the Pandora leaks with the premier instruction to bring the facts before the nation.

Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Shaukat Fayyaz Tarin, Federal Minister for Water Resources Chaudhry Moonis Elahi and Elahi’s predecessor Faisal Vawda, National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) President Arif Usmani, PM Imran’s ambassador at large for foreign investment Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, National Investment Trust’s (NIT) MD Adnan Afridi and mant oters feature in the leaked documents.

The leaked data also reveals the names of the family of Federal Minister for Industries Khusro Bakhtiyar and PM Imran’s former Special Assistant Waqar Masood’s son.

The names of Abraaj Group’s founder and CEO Arif Naqvi, Senior PTI leader, Imran Khan’s aide Abdul Aleem Khan and Business Tycon Tariq Shafi are also included in the list. The names of Opposition PPP leader Sharjeel Inam Memon and former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s son and former premier Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law Ali Dar also feature in the Pandora Papers.

Sources told Bol News that although the names of billionaires, key politicians, former generals and business tycoons have surfaced from Pakistan, the Pandora Papers have failed to make any startling revelations. “Keeping an offshore company is not a crime unless it is made from ill-gotten money. But still it will be a test case for the Imran Khan led PTI government whose only focus and narrative has been ‘Accountability’ since day one after coming to power in 2018,” they said.

Meanwhile, commenting on the Pandora Papers and the its impact, leading Tax consultant and lawyer Dr Ikramul Haq told Bol News that the elected public representatives, public office holders and persons serving as government employees cannot hide behind laws relating to “confidentiality” and “secrecy”.

“They cannot avail tax amnesty schemes as it would be a confession of some wrongdoing in discharging tax obligations and having unexplained money. It appears that while advising politicians of Pakistan who opted to participate in politics, tax consultants have been clearly overlooking this vital point. It has prominently surfaced in the Pandora Papers,” Dr Haq said.

“Where assets, liabilities, earnings and income of an elected or contesting candidate are camouflaged or concealed by resorting to different legal devices including benami, trustee, nominee, etc. arrangements for constituting holders of title, it would be appropriate for a learned Election Tribunal to probe whether the beneficial interest in such assets or income resides in the elected or contesting candidate in order to ascertain if his false or incorrect statement of declaration under Section 12(2) of the ROPA is intentional or otherwise.”

The same provisions are now contained in the Elections Act of 2017.

Dr Haq maintained in the light of information becoming public through Pandora Papers in respect of assets held abroad by a number of public officeholders as defined under National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, effective from 1 January 1985, in their names or through legal devices, including benami, offspring or siblings, trustee and nominee etc, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and and authorized authorities to investigate the financial affairs according to their respective jurisdiction.

Dr Haq further added that it is true that companies and shareholders are distinct entities and a shareholder is not accountable for all assets and liabilities of the company. But this principle does not apply in the case of a shell company, even if managed by a trust. Since shell companies are used as a conduit to hide wealth and/or evade taxes, corporate veil has to be lifted to make the investor/beneficial owner liable to explain sources of all assets/liabilities in his/her nomination papers as well as in the wealth statement filed under the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001.

The leading tax consultant was of the opinion that the laws for public office holders specifically require scrutiny of disclosure of wealth in their own name, in the name of spouse or any other person (benami) and a reconciliation of total means and total investment/expenditures.

“These laws cannot be defeated by resorting to different legal devices including benami, trustee, nominee or any other arrangement for constituting holders of title etc. In case of any discrepancy or proof of suppression and/or concealment (provided by anybody or a whistleblower), the Special Joint House Committee of Parliament should refer the matter to the relevant department/authority e.g. SBP, FBR, NAB, FIA, military authorities, as the case may be, to take action under the law,” he said.

Dr Haq added that this is the most desirable/reliable system of accountability, adopted by many countries and known to be highly transparent as per authentic surveys and indices. “The mere formation of companies is not a crime, but their use for tax evasion and concealing looted wealth of the nation is highly undesirable in any democratic dispensation. It should be dealt under the relevant laws and retrieval of lost tax or looted wealth of the nation should be assured,” he said.

“All the political parties instead of political scoring and/or mudslinging must purge their rank and files from black sheep. The government servants, after retirement, indulging in such malpractice, no matter how powerful, should be dealt with iron hand. It is the test of the entire system,”said Dr Haq.

For Haq, all over the world, the main issue in the wake of Pandora Papers is to make persons representing people and holding public office accountable—they should not hide their financial matters behind the laws of secrecy and privileges.

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