KARACHI: Not just prominent political figures of the country, but some big shots ranging from media moguls to close relatives of retired army officers, businessmen and executives have also come under the spotlight as details of the massive leak of Pandora Papers emerged on Monday.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) had, after a detailed investigation into hidden financial holdings of high-profile individuals across the world, released the papers on Sunday. Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Minister for Water Resources Moonis Elahi, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator Faisal Vawda and family members of Minister for Industries Khusro Bakhtiyar grabbed the nation’s attention for being close to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
As around 700 individuals from Pakistan have been identified in Pandora Papers, according to investigative journalists Umar Cheema and Fakhar Durrani, who were part of the major international research, a report published by The News on Monday said Jang group editor-in-chief Mir Shakilur Rehman, Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon and Express Media Group CEO Sultan Ali Lakhani also owned offshore companies.
According to the report, Mr Rehman owns an offshore company named Brookwood Ventures Limited in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). He was transferred the shares on April 17, 2008.
Named in Pandora Papers, NBP president, CEOs of Express and Dawn, and Jang group editor in chief claim to have declared offshore companies to tax authorities
“No, it’s not true, I don’t own any company. However, I had this till 2018,” Rehman told The News when its investigation cell sent him a questionnaire, according to Dawn.com.
Asked why he chose to establish a company in BVI when it was a ‘tax and secrecy haven’, Mr Rehman said it offered attractive conditions for investment. Asked if he had declared his company to the tax authorities, The News quoted him as saying, “Yes, it was part of my wealth for the tax year 2018 and subject to taxes where applicable.”
The Dawn CEO owned an offshore company called Bardney Limited, which was registered in Seychelles, the report said. According to his official response to The News, the company was “duly declared” and being reported to the Pakistani authorities in accordance with the law.
Similarly, Express Media Group’s CEO owned and offshore company, Century Media Network Inc, that was incorporated in February 2005. Mr Lakhani owned shares in the company with Mohammad Anwer Abdullah. A spokesperson for the Lakhani family said that “all companies are legal” and in accordance with applicable laws.
The report mentioned that the Gourmet group, which owns TV channel GNN, also owned an offshore company, Gourmet Holdings Limited, in the BVI jurisdiction, and appointed an employee, Amna Butt, as its director. “It is, however, not confirmed whether the company is declared with the Pakistani tax authorities or not,” the report said, adding that no response had been received from Ms Butt on a questionnaire sent to her.
Renowned journalist and editor of Pakistan Today, the late Arif Nizami, was among those who had their names in the report. He owned New Mile Production Limited in BVI that was incorporated in July 2000, with him and his wife declared as its beneficial owners.
“Both Mr and Mrs Nizami through this company held investment portfolios with Standard Chartered Bank Singapore, which included cash accounts, bonds, equities and mutual funds. The documents reveal that the estimated value of these assets at that time was $1.6 million. It is, however, not clear whether the company is declared with the tax authorities in Pakistan or not,” the report added.
Family members of ex-military officers
The News report identified more former military leaders and their family members named in Pandora Papers.
It stated that Ahsan Latif, son-in-law of former Punjab governor retired Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool, owned an offshore company, Dylan Capital Limited, which was registered in the BVI jurisdiction.
The report mentioned that according to the documents, the company was incorporated for “investment holding for certain properties in the UK and the UAE, but it was used for importing LPG (liquid petroleum gas) from Russia’s Vacus Oil Company Ltd”. It is not clear whether Mr Latif had declared those assets to the tax authorities, as no response to a query was received, according to the report.
Pandora Papers revealed that Mohammad Hasan Muzaffar, son of retired Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal Muzaffar, owned shares in a company, Creek Growth Capital Holding Ltd, registered in BVI. This offshore company owned Southeast Healthcare Holding that controlled a Dubai-based medical centre, which is apparently closed at the moment, the report said, adding that the owner claimed that the investment was not linked to his father.
The News report stated: “Hasan told ICIJ that the simple fact is that there is no relation of this investment to his father. He further commented that the investment was made solely from his own income earned in the UAE and came from his UAE bank account. No other family member, including his father, was involved.”
According to the report, Zahra Tanvir, wife of retired Lt Gen Tanvir Tahir, owned an offshore company, Ener Plastic Limited, in the BVI jurisdiction. “The Pandora Papers show that Mrs Zahra Tanvir is one of the beneficial owners of the company. As per the leaked documents, Ener Plastics Limited is a holding company and dividends and real investment [are] the main source of funds for the company,” the report said. However, it added, The News received no response to a questionnaire sent to her.
Businessmen & executives
Peshawar Zalmi-famed Javed Afridi owns three offshore companies, namely Old Trafford Properties Ltd, Sutton Gas Works Properties Ltd and Gas Works Property Ltd, according to Pandora Papers.
According to the report, the owner of Peshawar Zalmi franchise confirmed to The News his ownership of the companies, explaining that the reason behind incorporating them was for “good intention to save tax rather than avoiding any tax”. It quoted Mr Afridi as saying that the companies were almost dormant, with no business or investment being done by any of the companies.
According to the report, President of National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) Arif Usmani incorporated a company, Sasa Partners Inc, in BVI in March 2018. It stated that Pandora Papers revealed him to be the company’s beneficial owner where he kept bankable assets.
Responding to The News questions, Mr Usmani said that all his tax records had been provided to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and every asset he owned — internationally or locally — had been declared in his wealth statements filed with the FBR.
As part of his submissions to the FBR as a returning Pakistani, Mr Usmani declared the existence of “SASA Partners Inc. BVI” to all relevant authorities as per applicable laws. Mr Usmani served for over 26 years abroad during which time the assets were acquired and no funds were ever transferred from Pakistan for these assets.
The Managing Director of National Investment Trust, Adnan Afridi, registered an offshore company, Veritas Advisory Services Ltd, in the BVI jurisdiction in October 2011, according to the report. He confirmed to the media that he owned the company, claiming that it was struck off the register of companies in BVI in December 2017 for being dormant.
Among the family members of bureaucrats identified in Pandora Papers, the report said Yawar Salman, son of former FBR chairman and finance secretary Salman Siddique, also owned an offshore company.
According to the documents, his son had registered Cres Tech Holdings Limited in BVI with partner Noeen Ahmed Anwar just months before Mr Siddique’s retirement. The News quoted Yawar Salman as saying that Cres Tech Holdings was “incorporated as part of a then-envisaged plan to undertake a foreign business. However, owing to certain circumstances, neither any equity was contributed nor any bank account opened”. “Since no equity was ever contributed and the entity’s worth remains ‘nil’, the question of disclosing it to the tax authorities does not arise,” the report quoted him as saying.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021