Pakistan may be a cash-strapped nation on the brink of an imminent financial collapse, but that has not stopped military leaders and powerful politicians, including those in the inner circle of the Imran Khan government to siphon off money out of the country, the ICIJ’s Pandora Papers have revealed.
As many as 700 Pakistanis, including members of Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s cabinet, inner circle, cabinet ministers, their families and major financial brokers, are among those who secretly owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars of wealth stashed offshore, according to International Consortium of Investigative Journalism(ICIJ).
The Pandora Papers have also implicated Pakistani military leaders in stashing off wealth abroad through a maze of shell companies and dubious trusts. While his ministers and aides are named in the papers, there is no direct reference saying Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s involvement.
Among those named in the papers include Finance Minister Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, his family, and the son of Khan’s former advisor for finance and revenue, Waqar Masood Khan. Besides, the papers also reveal the offshore dealings of a big PTI donor, Arif Naqvi, who is facing fraud charges in the United States.
The ICIJ said the involvement of Pakistani leaders in hiding their wealth offshore is shocking, given that the country is plagued by chronic poverty and widespread corruption.
As per files in possession of the ICIJ, Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, a key political ally of Pak PM Imran Khan, had planned to put the proceeds from an allegedly corrupt business deal into a secret trust to evade tax liabilities in Pakistan. Elahi’s family spokesman rubbished the allegations as politically motivated and alleged that “due to political victimisation misleading interpretations and data have been circulated in files for nefarious reasons.”
Similarly, Omer Bakhtyar, the brother of Khan’s minister for industries, Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar, transferred a $1 million apartment in the Chelsea area of London to his elderly mother through an offshore company in 2018.
Faisal Vawda, Khan’s former minister for water resources, had set up an offshore company in 2012 to invest in UK properties. He resigned in March this year over the controversy of possessing two citizenships—of the United States and Pakistan. The financial backers of Imran Khan are prominent in leaked documents, according to ICIJ.
The Pakistani military establishment, which is said to be the de facto power centre superseding Imran Khan’s government, is also involved in holding undisclosed assets and illicit properties abroad. One such shady holding involving military leaders and their families relates to a swanky London apartment, which was transferred from the son of a famous Indian movie director to the wife of a three-star general.
Pakistani news station ARY News recently said that the owner of two offshore companies registered at the address of Pakistan PM Imran Khan has disclosed that they were registered by him on a different address and denied any role of the premier in this regard.
The secret assets were uncovered by a global investigation based on 12 million files leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which has been working with more than 140 media organisations worldwide.
Imran Khan’s PM campaign was based on revelations made in Panama Papers against Nawaz Sharif
The revelations made in Pandora Papers rivals the findings of the Panama Papers, which was made the focal point of the election campaign launched by Imran Khan to stake his claim to the country’s highest titular office. Khan had vigorously campaigned against opposition leaders for their alleged wealth deposited in the foreign banks. The findings had spawned a groundswell of opposition to Nawaz Sharif-led government, leading to his downfall and catapulting Khan to the PM office three years ago.
However, over the years, Khan’s popularity among the masses had waned considerably. The primary reason for this predicament is his inability to extricate Pakistan from the economic crisis that it currently finds itself in. Several of its past allies have refused to offer help while the existing ones have imposed exacting constraints for borrowing money.
Domestically too, Khan is facing stiff resistance from the opposition parties and there is rising anger and dissatisfaction among the people of Pakistan. There have been protests against Khan’s party PTI, with people calling for the resignation of the prime minister for his abject failure in arresting the downward spiral of the economy, expanding unemployment and crumbling healthcare infrastructure.
Amidst this, the involvement of cabinet ministers and Pakistani military leaders in evading taxes and funnelling money out of the country is bound to generate further resentment among people. Therefore, Khan did not take too long to recognise problems Pandora Papers could pose for his continuance in the office of Prime Minister. Soon after the revelations were made public, Khan said he is going to launch an impartial probe into the matter.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan launches probe to investigate revelations made in Pandora Papers
Bedevilled with yet another crisis, Khan struck an anodyne tone while acknowledging the revelations made in Pandora Papers. On Monday, Khan set up a high-level commission to investigate Pakistanis named in the Pandora Papers, a day after several members of his inner circle, retired civilian and military officials, businessmen, as well as owners of the top media outlets, were listed in the leaks following an investigation uncovering financial secrets held by high-profile individuals around the world.
However, analysts who closely watch matters related to Pakistan, believe such a probe would be nothing more than a smokescreen, designed to delegitimise the allegations and protect those who are said to have amassed millions of dollars of hidden wealth.