80pc inquiry into Pandora Papers leak complete

Published January 1, 2022
Pandora Papers are said to be the largest investigation ever conducted by the ICIJ through a consortium of journalists across the globe. — AFP/File
Pandora Papers are said to be the largest investigation ever conducted by the ICIJ through a consortium of journalists across the globe. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission (PMIC) has completed about 80 per cent of fact-finding inquiry into the much-hyped Pandora Papers revelations regarding offshore companies, money laundering and tax evasion by bigwigs, and (in response to its queries) received replies from almost all public office-holders, bureaucrats and generals whose names have appeared in the papers.

During the inquiry, it came to the PMIC’s notice that names of 700 Pakistanis, as claimed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist (ICIJ), have appeared in Pandora Papers, but the PMIC has so far received 240 names from the consortium, and those individuals are being probed.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) told Dawn that contrary to an impression that a curtain had been drawn on Pandora Papers revelations, the PMIC would meet its deadline for completing first phase of the inquiry against 240 people by the end of this month (Jan 2022). The commission will further proceed on new names to be shared by the ICIJ.

“Of these 240 people, there are around 40 public office-holders, bureaucrats and military generals,” a source said, adding that almost all of them had furnished their replies to the PMIC’s queries.

Inspection commission believes not all Pakistanis whose names have appeared in the papers are guilty

The commission believes that not all 240 accused would have committed money laundering and tax evasion as opening firms abroad and placing assets there was not a crime unless they were involved in money laundering and violating tax laws.

Those whose names have already been published include some members of the federal cabinet, retired civilian and military officials and their family members, top businessmen and owners of some of the country’s top media houses.

However, all of them are not believed to be guilty as some of them have only established off-shore companies and did not park any asset there, some of them did business through these companies but they did not commit any money laundering or tax evasion and some of them, who are residing abroad, are bound to abide by tax and other laws of the countries they are living in and not the laws of Pakistan.

For instance, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, after his name appeared in Pandora Papers, clarified that he had established a company abroad for his own private bank but did not park any asset in the company.

Pandora Papers are said to be the largest investigation ever conducted by the ICIJ through a consortium of journalists across the globe. It was made public on Oct 3, 2021. The Pandora Papers are based on documents leaked to the ICIJ which expose offshore dealings by kings, presidents and prime ministers of more than 50 countries.

According the ICIJ, Pandora Papers contain names of more than 700 Pakistanis who secretly own or have owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars in offshore jurisdiction.

“Soon after the leak, the PMIC was tasked with the fact-finding inquiry and the commission sent a pro forma carrying some queries to majority of 240 persons, except a few whose names have not been verified so far. The PMIC engaged relevant institutions and has so far managed to complete 80 per cent inquiry,” the sources said.

The commission gave seven days to every accused person for furnishing replies to the queries and all public office- holders, bureaucrats and military generals have given their statements.

The commission, which has been probing the leak for three months, is being assisted by the State Bank of Pakistan, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Nadra, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Federal Board of Revenue.

On Oct 25, the commission called two Pakistani journalists who were part of the Pandora Papers and sought names of the accused and details about their off-shore financial activities.

However, except for a few names, the commission could not get any other information.

The PMIC contacted the ICIJ for seeking information about the accused, but the consortium replied that it shared such information only with journalists.

According to the sources, the PMIC faced hardship in verifying names of the accused and get further information about them. “We could not verify names of some accused as Nadra [National Database Registration Authority] database showed thousands of persons with the same name,” a senior official of the commission said.

He said almost 30 to 35 names, out of 240, were still untraceable, but the commission was trying to get information about them through other sources and departments concerned.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2022

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