ISLAMABAD: Nearly a year and a half after the Panama Papers leaks shook the world elites by revealing the offshore holdings of some of the most powerful political players, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released another treasure trove of data late on Sunday.
Dubbed the Paradise Papers, the leaks consist of 13.4 million files from “a combination of offshore service providers and the company registries of some of the world’s most secretive countries”.
The documents include loan agreements, financial statements, emails, trust deeds and other paperwork from Appleby, a leading offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda, as well as files from a smaller trust company, Asiaciti.
Rex Tillerson, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Noor of Jordan, three former Canadian PMs also named in fresh leaks
The most prominent Pakistani name that emerged from the fresh leaks was that of Shaukat Aziz, the Musharraf-era finance minister who also remained prime minister from 2004 to 2007.
Mr Aziz worked for Citibank before entering politics and was “one of the shareholders and directors of the Bahamas-registered Cititrust Limited from 1997 to 1999, along with other executives of the bank”.
“Shaukat Aziz set up the Antarctic Trust in the name of his wife, three children and granddaughter weeks before he came to Pakistan to lead the finance ministry,” ICIJ representative Umar Cheema told Geo News, adding that these assets were never declared to any Pakistani institution in financial documents Mr Aziz submitted between 2003 and 2006.
“Appleby’s Bermuda office was the trust’s protector, acting as an independent overseer. In a 2012 internal memo, the law firm’s compliance officer noted that Aziz had been accused by the opposition of false declaration of assets, corruption and misappropriation of funds,” the ICIJ website said. Antarctic Trust was closed in Sept 2015.
The ICIJ maintained that the Antarctic Trust held most of Mr Aziz’s assets earned when he worked at Citicorp and was created before he relocated to Pakistan to be appointed finance minister.
The purpose was “to insure that if he were to die, his assets would pass efficiently to his family,” Mr Aziz’s lawyer told the ICIJ.
When asked by the consortium why his asset declarations in Pakistan didn’t mention the Antarctic Trust, the lawyer said the “legal owner” of the trust was Citicorp Trust Delaware N.A., not Mr Aziz, and that Mr Aziz and his family members paid all US taxes they owed.
Cititrust is an affiliate of Citicorp where Mr Aziz was an executive, and managed his personal assets for many years, the lawyer said.
Former chairman of the National Insurance Corporation Limited, Ayaz Khan Niazi, is also named in the Paradise Papers, Mr Cheema said.
In addition, 13 members of the Trump cabinet — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Louis Ross Jr — were named in the leaks.
Queen Elizabeth II of England, Queen Noor of Jordan, former Canadian prime ministers Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney and pop stars Madonna and Bono of U2 are also named in the leak.
Records also show that Kremlin-owned firm, VTB Bank, quietly directed $191 million into an investment fund that used the money to buy a large stake in the social media network, Twitter, in 2011.
They also show that a subsidiary of the Kremlin-controlled energy giant, Gazprom, heavily funded an offshore company that made a large investment in Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook.
While the leaked data does not contain any proof of criminality on the part of the persons named in the documents — since owning offshore companies is not a crime in and of itself — it is still highly likely that the money funnelled into these holdings did not pass through legal banking channels and was laundered through tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2017