ISLAMABAD: A fresh set of leaked documents exposing secret fortunes of prominent individuals across the globe reveal that key members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers, their families, political allies and major financial backers, have secretly owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars of hidden wealth.
Under the law, setting up of an offshore company is not an offence or crime if the company is not involved in any illegal activity. However, those who have not declared these companies in their returns as assets can face legal action.
According to Pandora Papers released by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), among those whose holdings have been exposed are Finance Minister Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin and his family, Minister for Water Resources Moonis Elahi, former federal minister Faisal Vawda, and the son of PM’s former adviser for finance and revenue Waqar Masood Khan. The family of Minister for Industries and Production Khusro Bakhtiyar, PTI leader Abdul Aleem Khan, PPP’s Sharjeel Memon and PML-N’s Ishaq Dar’s son Ali Dar are also mentioned in the papers.
Some retired army officers, businessmen including Shoaib Sheikh, Axact’s CEO and owners of media houses have been named in the papers. The records also reveal the offshore dealings of a top PTI donor, Arif Naqvi, who is facing fraud charges in the United States.
Based upon the most expansive leak of tax haven files in the history, the investigation reveals secret deals and hidden assets of more than 330 politicians and high-level public officials including 35 country leaders in over 90 countries. The papers include names of as many as 700 individuals from Pakistan.
Shaukat Tarin and members of his family own four offshore companies. According to Tariq Fawad Malik, a financial consultant who handled the paperwork on the companies, they were set up as part of the Tarin family’s intended investment in a bank with a Saudi business.
The papers reveal that Omer Bakhtiyar, the brother of minister for industries, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiyar, transferred a $1 million apartment in the Chelsea area of London to his elderly mother through an offshore company in 2018. The state anti-corruption agency has been investigating allegations that his family’s wealth inexplicably “ballooned” since Bhaktiyar first became a minister in Pervez Musharraf’s government in 2004.
In a written statement to ICIJ, Bakhtiyar said the anti-corruption agency’s investigation was founded on baseless allegations, which had underestimated his family’s past wealth, and that it has so far not resulted in a formal complaint.
Leaked documents find key personalities including sitting and ex-ministers Shaukat Tarin, Moonis Elahi, Faisal Vawda, Sharjeel Memon, Aleem Khan, family members of Khusro Bakhtiyar, Ishaq Dar and others holding secret assets
The son of Waqar Masood Khan, the premier’s chief adviser for finance and revenue between 2019 and 2020, co-owned a company based in the British Virgin Islands. Masood resigned in August amid a policy dispute. Khan told ICIJ that he did not know what his son’s company did. He said his son lived a modest life, and was not his financial dependent.
Khan’s financial backers are also prominent in the files. Arif Naqvi, the financier and major donor to Khan’s 2013 campaign, owned several offshore companies. The files show that in 2017, Naqvi transferred ownership of UK holdings – three luxury apartments, his country estate and a property in London’s suburbs – into an offshore trust operated by Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank declined to respond to ICIJ’s concerning the beneficiaries of the trust. The next year, he presided over the spectacular collapse of his Dubai-based private equity firm, Abraaj Group.
US prosecutors charged Naqvi with engineering a $400 million fraud against Abraaj investors and this year persuaded a court to allow his extradition from the UK Naqvi has denied wrongdoing.
Tariq Shafi, a leading businessman and another PTI donor, held $215 million through offshore companies, the records show.
The documents offer an unusually detailed look at how a top political figure attempted to hide proceeds from an alleged misuse of public funds with the help of an elite offshore service provider.
The papers also elaborate the scandals linked with the family of former chief minister of Punjab Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.
The document citing public records says Elahi’s wife used a UK shell company to transfer an $8.2 million London apartment overlooking the River Thames to a woman named Mahrukh Jahangir, who then filed a UK Land Registry document generally used by joint owners and trustees. The transfer was not for “money or anything of monetary value”, according to public records.
A woman with the same name as Mahrukh Jahangir appears as a 9.4% shareholder in the RYK Mills owned by Chaudhries. Neither Elahi nor his wife disclosed ownership of the apartment or RYK assets in their official declaration of interests from 2017 as part of his candidacy to become a member of the National Assembly.
In April, Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency (FIA) announced a criminal probe into price fixing in the powerful sugar industry, naming RYK Sugar Mills among the companies allegedly involved. The industry dominates the valuable agricultural land of Punjab and is one of the biggest water users in one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. It is also among the world’s largest producers of sugarcane and uses enough water each year to fill Australia’s Sydney Harbour more than 45 times.
The Pandora Papers reveal that in 2007, the wife of Gen Shafaat Ullah Shah, then one of Pakistan’s leading generals and a former aide to President Pervez Musharraf, acquired a $1.2 million apartment in London through a discreet offshore transaction.
The property was transferred to Gen Shah’s wife by an offshore company owned by Akbar Asif, a wealthy businessman who has opened restaurants in London and Dubai, according to the ICIJ research. Asif is the son of the Indian film director K Asif. The younger Asif once met Musharraf at London’s Dorchester Hotel to ask for an exception to Pakistan’s 40-year ban on Indian films to allow the release there of one of his father’s most acclaimed movies. Musharraf granted the exception and later lifted the ban.
The leaked documents show that Asif owned a multimillion-dollar property portfolio through a web of offshore companies. One of those companies, called Talah Ltd. and registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), was used to transfer the London apartment to Gen Shah’s wife. Talah bought an apartment near the Canary Wharf financial district in 2006. The next year, Asif transferred company’s ownership to Fariha Shah.
Asif’s sister, Heena Kausar, is the widow of Iqbal Mirchi, a senior figure in a leading organised crime group, D-company. Mirchi was at the time under sanction as a drug trafficker by the US. Before his death in 2013, Mirchi was one of India’s most wanted men.
The Pandora Papers also reveal that Raja Nadir Pervez, a retired army officer and former government minister, owned International Finance & Equipment Ltd, a BVI-registered company. In the leaked files, the firm is involved in machinery and related businesses in India, Thailand, Russia and China. Records show that in 2003, Pervez transferred his shares in the company to a trust that controls several offshore companies.
One of the trust’s beneficiaries is a British arms dealer. According to UK court documents, one of the trust’s other companies has helped broker arms sales from Belgian manufacturer FN Herstal SA to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., a state-owned Indian defense company.
Another influential former military leader whose name comes up in the leaked documents is Maj Gen Nusrat Naeem, ISI’s onetime director general of counterintelligence. He owned a BVI company, Afghan Oil & Gas Ltd, registered in 2009, shortly after his retirement. He said the company had been set up by a friend and he didn’t use it for any financial transactions.
The Pandora Papers also brought to light the notable offshore holdings of close relatives of three senior military figures. Umar and Ahad Khattak, sons of former air chief of Pakistan Abbas Khattak, registered a BVI company in 2010 to invest what documents call “family business earnings” in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate.
The Khattaks did not respond to reporters’ questions.
In an example involving intergenerational wealth transfer, Shahnaz Sajjad Ahmad inherited a fortune from her father, a retired lieutenant general, through an offshore trust that owns two London apartments, purchased in 1997 and 2011 in Knightsbridge, a short walk from Harrods. She, in turn, set up a trust for her daughters in 2003 in Guernsey, a tax haven in the English Channel. Her father was a favourite of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, the country’s first military dictator (1958-1969). After her father retired from the army, he founded one of Pakistan’s biggest business conglomerates. Ayub Khan’s son later married into the family and sits on the boards of several of the group’s businesses. Shahnaz did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2021