Pandora Papers: Pak PM Imran says would probe all citizens mentioned in leaks

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that his government would investigate all the citizens mentioned in the pandora papers  hours after over 700 Pakistanis, including some ministers and key members of his inner circle, were listed in the leaks following an investigation uncovering financial secrets held by high-profile individuals around the world.

Khan said this in a statement issued late on Sunday after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a major international research into the financial secrets of high-profile individuals around the world, unveiled “Pandora Papers”.

According to the leaks, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Minister for Water Resources Moonis Elahi, Senator Faisal Vawda, the family of Minister for Industries and Production Khusro Bakhtiar, among others, had links with offshore companies.

Prime Minister Khan welcomed the Pandora Papers exposing the ill-gotten wealth of elites, accumulated through tax evasion and corruption and laundered out to financial ‘havens’.

“My government will investigate all our citizens mentioned in the Pandora Papers and if any wrongdoing is established, we will take appropriate action. I call on the international community to treat this grave injustice as similar to the climate change crisis,” he said.

He said that just like the East India Company plundered the wealth of India, ruling elites of the developing world are doing the same.

“Unfortunately, the rich states are neither interested in preventing this large-scale plunder nor in repatriating this looted money,” Khan said.

He said that the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI) calculated a staggering USD 7 trillion in stolen assets parked in largely offshore tax havens.

Khan said that his “over-two decades of struggle has been premised on the belief that countries are not poor but corruption causes poverty because money is diverted from being invested in our people”.

This resource-theft causes devaluation, leading to thousands of poverty-related deaths, he said, adding that if unchecked, inequalities between rich and poor states will increase as poverty rises in the latter.

“This in turn will lead to a flood of economic migration from the poor to the rich states, causing further economic and social instability across the globe,” Khan added.

The Pandora Papers have also named some retired Pakistan Army officials, businessmen — including Axact’s CEO Shoaib Sheikh — and media company owners.

According to a report by Geo News, leaked documents revealed that “key members” of Prime Minister Khan”s inner circle, including cabinet ministers, their families and major financial backers “have secretly owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars of hidden wealth”.

More than 600 reporters from around the world, belonging to 150 media organisations spanning 117 countries, participated in the research for two years for the Pandora Papers, which contain 11.9 million files containing 2.94 terabytes worth of confidential information.

Pakistani investigative reporter Umar Cheema, who was part of the probe along with fellow journalist, Fakhar Durrani, shared details with Geo News. The two reporters are associated with The News newspaper owned by the Jang Group which also owns the Geo News.

Detailing the difficulties encountered in contacting the people named in the investigation Cheema said that written questions were first sent. Some were contacted by phone, who would hang up when told what the probe is about, some refused to give their email addresses, others were also contacted through WhatsApp.

It must be noted that establishing and declaring an offshore company, which is not involved in any illegal practices, is permissible by law.

Speaking of Prime Minister Khan”s Lahore residence, 2 Zaman Park, he said that the ICIJ, the non-profit newsroom and journalist network based in Washington DC, which organised the investigation, sent questions to the Prime Minister’s spokesperson.

It took the ICIJ almost two years to organise the investigation that involved more than 600 journalists in 117 countries, making it the biggest-ever journalism partnership. By comparison, for the Panama Papers, almost 400 journalists from 80 countries participated in the investigation.

The Pandora Papers leak will uncover financial secrets of more leaders and public officials than the Panama Papers did and provide more than twice as much information about the ownership of offshore companies, reports suggest.

The Panama Papers were based on the data of a Panama-based law firm called Mossack Fonseca that revealed offshore holdings of 140 politicians, public offshore and sports stars. Those documents were obtained by the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, which contained records dating back 40 years.

The Pandora Papers investigation is bigger in size and revelations about politicians and public officials are also far more than what previously came to public attention.

From Pakistan, there were more than 400 individuals who surfaced in the Panama Papers, including members of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s family.

In July 2017, a five-member Supreme Court bench unanimously ruled against Sharif, disqualifying him from the office in the Panamagate scandal.

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