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July 10, 2017

Majority of top heads of countries stay in power despite Panama charges

Top Story

July 10, 2017

LAHORE: The ripple effect of the leaked documentation from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, had also triggered instant panic in Malta following allegations that the country's 43-year-old Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's wife Michelle was holding secret offshore accounts, hence forcing the Maltese head of government to announce early elections amid mounting corruption claims and opposition calls for his resignation, writes Sabir Shah.

Several thousand people had filled a big square in Malta's capital, but announcement of snap polls, 10 months ahead of the scheduled general elections, had calmed down the protestors to some extent.

According to "Deutsche Welle or DW," which is Germany's public international broadcaster, an independent magisterial inquiry was launched into the issue, but Joseph Muscat was re-elected as country's prime minister on June 3, 2017 in a second landslide victory for the Labour Party, winning with a wider margin than in 2013, which thus meant that Malta’s electorate had rejected negative campaigning.

Triumphant Premier Muscat's Labour Party ran a serene campaign, which focused on pledges that were aimed at better distribution of the country’s wealth after Malta experienced unprecedented economic growth under the 2013 administration. 

The campaigns top pledges included: giving workers back their public holidays that fall over a weekend; an ambitious seven year plan to resurface all of Malta’s roads; and a tax bonus for every worker earning up to 60,000 Euros.

Although owning offshore accounts is not illegal in Malta, the revelations and investigation into the offshore holdings of Joseph Muscat's wife Michelle had certainly created a political backlash, compelling the sitting prime minister to deny the claims that his spouse had received money from the daughter of energy-rich Azerbaijan's president through a shell company established by the law firm Mossack Fonseca.

It is imperative to note that in 2016, two of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat's close collaborators were also implicated in the Panama Papers, holding two shell companies in that jurisdiction.

These were Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Maltese minister Mizzi's wife, Sai Mizzi Liang, who is Malta's trade envoy to China and Consul General for Malta in Shanghai, China, was also named as beneficiary, together with their children, of a trust based in New Zealand holding Mizzi's Panama shell company, Messrs Hearnville Incorporated.

It is common knowledge that just two days after Panama Papers had shed light on offshore world, Iceland’s embattled prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, had to relinquish charge on April 5, 2016 amid mounting public outrage that his family had sheltered money offshore. He was also chairman of the Progressive Party from 2009 to October 2016.

Since his resignation as prime minister and loss of his party chairmanship, Gunnlaugsson has repeatedly asserted that he was the victim of a global conspiracy to bring him down. He has often implied that American tycoon George Soros, the Swedish Public Broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT), the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and some Icelandic media houses had conspired against him.

In March 2017, the former Icelandic premier Sigmundur had further alleged that the Swedish Public Broadcaster Sveriges Television interview was "falsified", and that the interviewers had practiced how to confuse him as much as they could.

A day after Premier Sigmundur had stepped aside after popular outrage at revelations of his family’s offshore holdings, the ruling Progressive and Independence parties in Iceland had named Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Sigurour Ingi Johannsson as his successor. 

Following the stepping aside of Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, bookmakers across the world had begun taking bets on who might be the next world leader to leave office as a result of leaks related to offshore accounts!

On April 10, 2016, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk announced that he would resign amid a growing political crisis as fallout from corruption scandals was continuing to roil Europe.

His resignation came at a time when the country's President, Petro Poroshenko, was under scrutiny after the Panama Papers had suggested that he used an undisclosed offshore company to avoid taxes.

By the way, American President Donald Trump met with his 'tainted' Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, in Washington DC on June 20, 2017 amid intensifying questions over whether his administration would step in to protect partners in the face of Russian aggression.

The "Associated Press" writes: "The meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was originally described by the White House as a brief "drop-in." But the two presidents posed for photographs in the Oval Office and made brief remarks after Poroshenko's more extensive meetings with Vice President Mike Pence and the administration's top national security advisors. With the Ukrainian leader sitting by his side, Trump said that it was a "great honour" to meet Poroshenko and that "a lot of progress has been made" in the United States relationship with Ukraine."

It is noteworthy that when Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, took office in 2014, he had pledged to sell his candy business, but PanamaLeaks indicate that on August 21, 2014, he and Mossack Fonseca had set up offshore holding company Prime Asset Partners Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. President Petro had moved his company to the tax haven, roughly two months after the election.

On April 8, 2016, British Prime Minister David Cameron was also facing increasing calls to resign in the wake of revelations that he had profited from offshore tax havens and that he had personally intervened to prevent a crackdown on tax evasion in the United Kingdom.

On April 11, 2016, the "New York Times" had stated:" The debate in the House of Commons over the fallout from the Panama Papers lasted 1 hour, 27 minutes and 21 seconds. No smoking guns were revealed in Prime Minister David Cameron’s personal finances, or in the finances of other officials. And there were no major policy announcements. Still, the parliamentary debate was the most vigorous discussion of the use of offshore bank accounts and shell companies to conceal personal wealth or avoid taxes since the Panama Papers were released. It was also a chance for Britain’s two main parties to lay out their competing visions. Cameron defended his father’s use of offshore funds and — after an initially clumsy response to reports based on the leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm — he said he had now disclosed more about his personal finances than any of his predecessors."

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had maintained: "British Prime Minister David Cameron has continued to try to defuse public anger over details of his offshore holdings, announcing new steps to make the offshore world more transparent during an address to parliament. Addressing the House of Commons on Monday, Cameron pledged to create a cross agency task force to probe Panama Papers revelations and promised to push for new rules that would allow authorities to prosecute corporations that facilitate tax evasion."

According to the BBC, Germany has paid millions of Euros for the Panama Papers, an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. Files include detailed financial and attorney -- client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities.

The German Federal Crime Office has said it would put the multi-million-file inventory into electronic form to allow for detailed evaluation. It did not confirm the sum, but government sources told German media 5 million Euros (£4.4million; $5.7million) had been paid.

Germany, France and the UK are all believed to have paid for date on bank customers in the past in an attempt to crack down on tax evasion. After more than a year of analysis, the first news stories in this context were published on April 3, 2016, along with 150 of the documents themselves.

Incumbent Pakistani Premier would deem himself a bit unlucky because no real probe is currently underway against any global celebrity or ruler named in Panama Papers.

Apart from the important names discussed above in this story, former long-time Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlosconi, was also named in Panama Papers but is not facing any probe. However, he has already been convicted for tax evasion and expelled from the Italian Parliament.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin's name does not appear in any of the Panama Papers released to date, but those of his associates do.

Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, had called the Western reporting of the Panama Papers "Putinophobia," asserting that targeting Putin was part of a conspiracy against Russia orchestrated by the US Department of State and American CIA.

Similarly, according to esteemed British media houses like "The Guardian" and "The Independent," names of Chinese top government officials, members of the Spanish royal families, monarchs of Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia, and son of President Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas etc have also surfaced in the Panama Papers, but they are at total ease.