By Umar Cheema
Islamabad, PAKISTAN: A treasure trove of leaked documents has blown the lid off the faces behind offshore companies operating in multilayered secrecy, revealing the names of fame throughout the world including Pakistani politicians, businessmen, bankers as well as a serving high court judge and a retired judge.
The findings are based on year-long investigation of Center of Investigative Reporting in Pakistan (CIRP) that obtained access to the otherwise best-kept secrets of the world, thanks to International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Over 200 Pakistanis have been identified and the counting is still in progress. How many more Pakistanis own off-shore companies using other law firms remain anybody’s guess given the fact the available record is of one firm only. The data under examination covers nearly 40 years from 1977 through the end of 2015. Pakistanis started spotting in the record from 1990 onward.
The names found in the secret files from Pakistan range from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family to Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s in-laws; from Benazir Bhutto to a close aide of Asif Zardari, Javed Pasha; from Senator Rehman Malik to Senator Osman Saifullah family; and from Waseem Gulzar (a relative of Chaudhrys of Gujrat) to Zain Sukhera, who was co-accused with former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s son in Hajj scandal.
Businessmen featured in the record range from hotel industry tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani to real estate czar Malik Riaz Hussain’s son; from Hussain Dawood family to Abullah family of Sapphire Textiles, Gul Muhammad Tabba of Lucky Textiles as well as Shahid Nazir of Masood Textiles and from Zulfiqar Ali Lakhani to Zulfiqar Paracha.
The members from the bar and the bench were also spotted in the documents include one serving judge of Lahore High Court, Justice Farrukh Irfan; and one retired judge, Malik Qayyum.
President of Habib Bank AG Zurich, Anjum Zahoor Iqbal, has also used the offshore company for parking “savings” in USB Bank and buy property. Owners of Hilton Pharma, Shehbaz Yasin Malik opened the company for Swiss bank account. Chairman ABM Group of Companies Azam Sultan, Pizza Hut Owner Aqueel Hussian and Chairman Soorty Enterprise Abdul Rashid Soorty were also identified along with family members.
If the ruling Sharifs are shy to bring their money to Pakistan, why should others invest here??? #PanamaPapers
— Ansar Abbasi (@AnsarAAbbasi) April 4, 2016
While majority of Pakistanis figured in the documents are businessmen, politico-business Saifullah family of Lakki Marwat stays atop with record number of 34 offshore companies in British Virgin Island and Seychelles owned by Senator Osman Saifullah, Anwer Saifullah, Salim Saifullah, Humayun Saifullah, Dr. Iqbal Saifullah, Javed Saifullah and Jehangir Saifullah. Bank accounts in Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland and property in UK are owned by these companies.
Incidentally, Senator Osman Saifullah is a member of Tax Reform Commission set up by the government to check revenue leakage, broaden revenue base and improve tax administration.
At global level, ICIJ and its partners discovered the offshore companies controlled by the Prime Minister of Iceland, late father of UK Prime Minister, children of Azerbaijan’s President, King of Saudi Arabia, associates of Russian President who stashed two billion dollars through banks and shadow companies, Ukrainian President and brother-in-law of Chinese President, among other prominent figures.
As many as 29 billionaires featured in Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s 500 richest people and movie star Jackie Chan have also figured in the list of company owners in addition to the parental family of Bollywood stars: Amitab Bachan and Aishwarya Rai’s parental family.
Record spanning four decades buried behind the tight wall of secrecy is at open display now confirming doubts and fuelling debate about the offshore jurisdictions like British Virgin Island, Panama and Seychelles etc that are frequented by the rich and the rulers for hiding fortune to avoid taxes and in cases, ill-gotten money. Data made available is of one little known but a big law firm based in Panama, Mossack Fonseca, having global footprints in terms of its offshore clients.
This report in The Guardian explains what the Panama Papers are and according to this guide all people who use offshore structures are not crooks.
Family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is conspicuous due to its political profile. The record identifies four companies in the ownership of Maryam Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz. Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s mother-in-law from second marriage, Samina Durrani and brother-in-law from the first marriage, Ilyas Mehraj, have also been figured in the documents examined.
A company earlier accused in oil-for-food bribery scandal also resurfaced in the record reconfirming late Benazir Bhutto, her nephew, Hassan Ali Jaffery and Senator Rehman Malik as the only three shareholders of Petroline International Inc. A close aide of Asif Zardari, Javed Pasha, has been found linked with five companies. Remaining shareholders in those companies are prominent businessmen of Indian origin.
None but Sadruddin Hashwani, Ilyas Mehraj, Justice ® Malik Qayyum and Aqueel Hussain responded among the above-mentioned individuals when contacted for version that has been incorporated in separate stories carrying detail of their companies.
Examination of data indicates that some are beginners in this secret world, others incorporated the companies but left them dormant ending at dissolutions whereas many have kept them active using for the intended purposes.
Record of the ownership varies as it ranges from emails to spreadsheets, passports, signatures of shareholders, bank accounts details, property documents, resolution of directors and contact details in Pakistan and abroad.
Most of the services of the offshore industry provides are legal in the origin of respective jurisdictions like British Virgin Island, Channel of Island, The Bahamas, Republic of Panama, Republic of Seychelles, NIUE and others. What remains to be seen in terms of Pakistani individuals is the purpose of using tax heaven and whether or not have they declared this business in their tax declarations.
Overall data indicates that owners of such companies from different parts of the world were also involved in drug trafficking, robberies and cheats. Associates of Dawood Ibrahim, Junaid Iqbal Memon, Junaid Iqbal Memon, Nadiya Javed Malik and Hajra Iqbal Memon also own companies. In response to a query about the source of funding they replied to British Virgin Island administration that funds are generated “through borrowing/loan.”
The files examined by ICIJ and its partners found a convicted money launderer who claimed he had arranged a $50,000 illegal campaign contribution used to pay the Watergate burglars, drug kingpins, tax evaders and at least one jailed sex offender owning offshore companies. The files contain new details about major scandals ranging from England’s most infamous gold heist to the bribery allegations convulsing FIFA, the body that rules international soccer.
According to Express Tribune, Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain told a private broadcaster that his family had done “nothing wrong”.
“Those apartments are ours and those offshore companies are also ours,” he said in comments aired by the channel Monday.
There is nothing wrong with it and I have never concealed them, nor do I need to do that. It is according to British law and laws of other countries that it is a legal way to avoid unnecessary tax via offshore companies.–Hussain Nawaz.
Umar Cheema is member of ICIJ that partnered with more than 100 media organizations from 76 countries for reviewing 11.5 million secret files that a whistleblower leaked to Süddeutsche Zeitung.