Tuesday February 07, 2023

Pandora Papers

By Editorial Board
October 05, 2021

The Panama Papers of 2016 showed beyond any doubt how the global economic and political order is a viper’s nest of privilege and inequality. Now, five years later, we have an even bigger financial expose – the Pandora Papers. The investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has involved around 600 journalists – including Umar Cheema and Fakhar Durrani from Pakistan – drawing from nearly 12 million leaked documents from 14 financial services companies across the world. In addition to heads of states and governments, dozens of current and former leaders feature in the documents that the ICIJ has analysed. The documents have exposed how various top leaders in the world created a network of offshore companies and tax havens – from California to London. The ICIJ has found links between one thousand companies in offshore havens and over 300 high-level politicians and public officials. As many as 700 Pakistanis have been named in the investigation which features Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, PTI Senator Faisal Vawda, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Ilahi, the PML-N’s Ishaq Dar’s son, the PPP’s Sharjeel Memon, the family of PTI government minister Khusro Bakhtiar, PTI leader Abdul Aleem Khan, Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh and many others. Some retired top military officials are also named in the leaks, in varying detail – as have various business owners.

It should be made clear that, in the first place, holding an offshore company is no crime – which is why knee-jerk allegations are in themselves premature. The problems arise when the assets of that company or the company itself are not declared in tax returns or hidden from the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. However, such leaks do always open up questions about the ethics of offshore tax havens. The fact that billions of dollars continue to flow into small islands along the Caribbean Sea has been a matter of much public anger and acrimony. The consequence of this is the transfer of wealth from already poor countries into offshore banks, the downside of which is felt by the populations of these countries in the form of declining health and social services as well as rising prices.

It is not clear how many of those named in the current papers may have had legitimate reasons to open offshore companies. It is though significant that members of Imran Khan’s cabinet and immediate ring of advisers are among those named. Naturally those holding government office or part of state institutions will always be the centre of attention, as they ought to be. More investigations will be needed as far as government representatives are concerned. In the meanwhile, the PTI government may want to hold off on trying to obfuscate matters by pointing to the opposition or other individuals. The Pandora Papers should rather be a matter of grave concern for a party which came to power with promises to eliminate corruption, and instead has its own cabinet ministers and leaders involved in these alleged practices. What is becoming sufficiently clear in all this is that the rich and powerful benefit from a system that caters only to the one percent – to the exclusion of everyone else.