A SCREENSHOT of the ICIJ website.
A SCREENSHOT of the ICIJ website.

KARACHI: With the country still struggling to find a way out of the controversy caused by the Panama Papers, names of 259 more Pakistanis with links to offshore companies have surfaced in one of the world’s biggest-ever data leaks on an online searchable database made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Monday night.

The names in the latest release of documents on the website offshoreleaks.icij.org include that of Abdul Sattar Dero, a former general manager of the Port Qasim Authority; Shaukat Ahmed, the ex-president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Saba Obaid, mother of renowned filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; Irfan Puri; Salman Ahmed and Gul Muhammad Tabba; Hussain Dawood with sons Abdul Samad Dawood and Shazada Dawood; Maya Ismael, daughter of the late Inayat Ismael; Ali Siddiqui, son of banker and stockbroker Jahangir Siddiqui; and Mir Shakil ur Rahman of the Jang Group.

Mir Shakil has reportedly said the company is dormant with no money in it.

The database contains ownership information about companies created in 10 offshore jurisdictions, including the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and Singapore. It covers nearly 40 years until 2015. The database is flooded with traffic from around the world and will take more time to fully sift through.

No major politician included in fresh leaks lICIJ says legitimate uses exist for offshore firms and trusts

Ms Obaid-Chinoy responded to a request for comment from Dawn by saying, “I fully support ICIJ and the laudable efforts being made by it … I would, however, like to clarify that my name is not mentioned in the Panama leaks and I am neither the legal nor the beneficial owner of any enterprise mentioned in the Panama Papers.”

“There is a mention of my mother, Mrs Saba Obaid (widow of S.M. Obaid) and I say with confidence that the offshore companies mentioned in the Panama Papers as being owned by my mother are compliant with the applicable laws.”

While the fresh digital cache includes the names of members of Pakistan’s business elite, it is not immediately ascertainable whether it contains names of political heavyweights like the explosive April 3 Panama leaks that named Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children Maryam, Hassan and Hussain among some world leaders having offshore wealth.

The leaks allege that while Nawaz Sharif was in the opposition, his children raised a £7 million loan from the Deutsche Bank against four flats in London’s Park Lane neighbourhood owned by offshore companies based in the British Virgin Islands.

Transnational controversy

The PML-N government has since been locked in a bitter battle of words with opposition parties, who are calling for the prime minister to step down. Mr Sharif and his allies have spent much of the past month engaged in a damage control exercise to plead the innocence of the Sharif family.

The Panama Papers, the outcome of a massive investigation into secretive offshore companies owned by the world’s political and business elite, sparked controversy in several countries, including Pakistan, with Mr Sharif last month offering the formation a judicial commission to probe his family’s alleged links to offshore accounts.

The US-based organisation earlier said the fresh release “will not be a data dump” of the sort the Wikileaks group became known for.

But it said the current cache includes 200,000 offshore entities set up by wealthy individuals.

The documents are from data given to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung over a year ago by an anonymous source using the name “John Doe”.

The data came from nearly four decades of digital archives of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that specialised in creating and running offshore entities. The firm says its computer record was hacked from abroad.

While the ICIJ has released the information in public interest, it clearly maintains that it is not suggesting the people or companies included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or acted improperly. A disclaimer on its website states, “There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts.”

However, the network maintains that its release of record will help “strip away the secrecy of offshore jurisdictions”.

“Using the offshore economy is akin to acquiring your own island where the rules that most citizens follow don’t apply,” the ICIJ says on its website.

According to the initial release of the record, other world leaders having offshore accounts included Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Iceland’s former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and British Prime Minister David Cameron's father.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2016