ISLAMABAD: Revelations from the Panama Papers have caused uproar in Pakistan after media reports claimed that several politicians, businessmen and other influential figures were named as owners or shareholders in offshore firms incorporated through the Mossack Fonseca law firm.

In addition to the companies owned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children, the leaks also allege that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, her nephew Hassan Ali Jaffery and former interior minister Rehman Malik were the owners of Petrofine FZC — a company that was implicated in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, unearthed by a UN committee in 2005.

Javed Pasha, a close associate of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, is also named in connection with at least five companies. Mr Pasha is a media manager who was also involved in business deals with India-based channels, including Zee TV.

The Saifullahs of Lakki Marwat are said to be the owners of a record 34 off-shore companies. Of them, Osman Saifullah is currently a member of the Senate on a PPP ticket.

Former judge Malik Qayyum, whose brother Pervaiz Malik is a PML-N MNA from Lahore, has also been named in the leaks.


PPP, PML-N deny wrongdoing by leaders; proving ownership of companies termed

‘biggest challenge’

At least two people close to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif; Ilyas Mehraj — who is the brother of his first wife, Nusrat — and Samina Durrani — the mother of his second wife Tehmina Durrani — have also been mentioned.

The leaks indicate that Ms Durrani owned at least three offshore companies — Rainbow Ltd, Armani River Ltd and Star Precision Ltd — while Mr Mehraj is said to have been a majority shareholder in Haylandale Ltd.

However, most of the around 200 Pakistanis named in the leaks, media reports say, are businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Denials

Both PML-N and PPP insisted on Monday that there was no truth to the allegations levelled against their leaders.

In a press release issued via her Twitter account, Maryam Nawaz Sharif said that the leaks contained no allegations of wrongdoing against the Sharif family and that none of the corporations mentioned belonged to her father, the prime minister.

She claimed that she was not the beneficiary or owner of any company, but rather was a trustee of one of her brother’s corporations.

The statement said that her brothers, Hassan and Hussain, had been living in Saudi Arabia and the UK for over two decades and paid taxes there. “All of the corporations owned by the Sharif family are legal and financially sound,” the statement said.

The PPP also rejected allegations levelled against the late Benazir Bhutto, terming them part of a smear campaign against her and the PPP.

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar rejected the report, saying that NAB had dispatched prosecutors and investigators to Spain when the allegations first surfaced. “However, NAB returned empty-handed when the Spanish magistrate found no proof of wrongdoing and closed the case,” he said.

Senator Rehman Malik went one step further, calling the Panama Papers “a conspiracy of Indian intelligence agency, RAW”.

He admitted that he was one of the owners of Petrofine FZC but said it was not involved in any shady deals. “The company is a UAE-based firm and works in accordance with local laws,” he said.

Data collection

But Umar Cheema, a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the only Pakistani journalist to have access to the Panama Papers in advance, told Dawn that proving ownership of companies was one of the biggest challenges journalists faced in dealing with the leaked data.

“The documents weren’t always clear in establishing the identity of the owners,” Mr Cheema told Dawn, adding that this meant following the paper trail even further back.

“Sometimes we would reach a dead-end, but other times one company would link to five more; the data was very scattered and it was an arduous task to sift through it all,” he said.

He said that all 11.5 million files from the leak were shared with him, and said that there was still a lot more in the papers that was yet to be revealed. Syed Irfan Raza contributed to the report

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2016