THE Pandora Papers have created a stir, but have not triggered a political earthquake like the Panama Papers. Released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on Sunday, the documents list thousands of important people owning offshore accounts, raising questions about whether these were legally declared or kept off the books to park funds that may not have a banking money trail.
The list of Pakistanis featured in the Pandora Papers includes politicians — many among them close aides of Prime Minister Imran Khan — as well as retired military officials, businessmen and media owners. Since the publication, many of those named have offered explanations which may or may not hold up to scrutiny. The prime minister is said to have ordered that all people named should be investigated.
This is a good step. However, it must be kept in mind that owning an offshore company per se is not illegal. Such a company can provide a legitimate way to minimise taxation and accrue other benefits. It is also true though that offshore companies, hidden under false or other names, are used to hide proceeds of crime and corruption. The journalists at ICIJ have done commendable work to unearth the details of these companies and forced the owners to either come clean about their money or get ready to face the law.
Those who were expecting sensational disclosures like the Panama leaks may be disappointed, but the Pandora Papers provide enough material for the government to probe deep and determine which Pakistanis among those named can justify their ownership of companies and who must be placed in the dock. Many among those named are associated with the government — including Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin — and they must be made to face the full glare of official scrutiny.
As Prime Minister Imran Khan has argued so often while in opposition, such scrutiny can never have the desired impact as long as those who are being probed remain in their official positions. It is therefore in the fitness of things that the prime minister ask all the people in his government who figure in the Pandora Papers to step down from their offices till the investigations are complete. If they are found to be innocent, they can resume their positions, and if found guilty of wrongdoing they should be proceeded against as per the law. Mr Khan will win kudos for doing what he has always argued for. This is the first test case in this respect and it is hoped that the prime minister will do the right thing. Meanwhile, the information minister has done his government no favours by tweeting ‘news’ — which was fake as it turned out — that Maryam Nawaz’s son also owned offshore companies. One expects greater responsibility from those bestowed with high offices.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021