Panama Papers, the 11.5 million leaked documents have taken the world by storm starting a fresh wave of protests and creating political instability around the globe. While in Pakistan, the news is mostly likely to die out, and our focus will shift to something more dumbfound and mind-boggling.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his clan are not the only ones involved in tax evasion, but the list of wrongdoers includes 200 prominent Pakistanis from the field of politics, business, judiciary and media. The most notable ones are Shehbaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Rehman Malik, Malik Riaz’s son, Zulfiqar Ali Lakhani, Serving Lahore High Court Judge Justice Farrukh Irfan and Mir Shakeel Ur Rehman among others.
In democratic countries, this news should send the involved heads crashing but Pakistan is distant from this blessing. The leaked documents have reinstated the fact that democracy is used as a veil by the elites to favour their own good. In Pakistan, the opposition is only interested in point scoring and will keep pressuring the government until they benefit in kind. No one is thinking about the citizens at large because they are themselves least bothered to hold the corrupt elite accountable.
However, Nawaz Sharif is denying any wrongdoings and has immediately announced the formation of a Judicial Commission. This may be seen as a welcome step by the fools but in reality, the commission is just a coverup to come out clean similarly to a commission formed to probe the rigging allegations of 2013.
Today, it is important not to let this incident go as this will maintain the precedent set in previous years. Let us break chains of injustice and unethical practices that are otherwise deemed legal by the constitution that we trusted our leaders to safeguard.
Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson is the first casualty to step down because of the 10,000 strong protesters demanding his resignation following the outbreak of the reports published by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The leaked documents have identified 214,000 shell companies incorporated in the Republic of Panama by Mossack Fonseca that have no offices, no work and no employees. In short they are paper companies with an alleged objective to obscure the ultimate ‘beneficial owners’ in a bid to hide billions of dollars. That is what Nawaz Sharif and his family are guilty of and if the Panama Papers can’t prove it, then no one can. The properties and businesses acquired and sold by the Nawaz family are in hundred millions of dollars if not billions. Most of them have taken help of companies like Mossack Fonseca to secure tax savings.
Tax saving is for the rich while tax evasion is for the poor
The problem is not that the offshore companies are used for tax avoidance or tax evasion, but the fact of the matter is that these companies are a part of a much larger problem. They are used to fund crime, terrorism involving mass murders, drug trafficking, selling of girls and looting public money.
Over the past three years, Syria’s Airforce rained death on more than 21,000 civilians. The victims bodies ripped apart by exploding barrel bombs and missiles dropped on homes, business, bus stops and even hospitals. These war crimes have been well documented no so the part played by shadowy world of offshore finance.
Behind the scenes companies using offshore tax havens were accused of supplying fuel to Syrian Airforce. However, in 2014 multiple governments including the UK and the USA strictly placed a ban on such companies. Recently, through leaked documents of the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca and analysed by more than 300 journalists revealed that offshore companies supported attacks by supplying fuel to Syrian Airforce. These companies not only helped bomb most of the country but is a key player in the ever expanding lucrative industry that the world’s rich and powerful use to hide assets by setting up front companies in far-flung jurisdictions.
The investigation into the leaked documents revealed that the firm has helped alarming list of clients involved in bribery, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking. Behind the invoices, emails and paper trails are real victims. Panama Papers is about the skeptical activities of politicians, criminals and the rogue industry that hides their cash.
In Russia, businessmen first raped and then sold orphan girls as little as 13 years old for sex. The businessmen were the clients of the Panamanian firm who refused to supply any information to the authorities thanks to the offshore companies associated with them. In Uganda a company wanted to sell a prospective oil field with the help of Mossack Fonseca. It was very simple; the firm changed the company’s address from one tax haven to another to avoid $400 million in taxes. The Uganda’s government tried to bring the money back that was more than its health budget but failed to do so because of the involvement of the wealthy and the elite that exists in the world and is supported by well-connected firms like Mossack Fonseca.
Recently, offshore industry has come under fire for aiding dubious activities nonetheless firms like Mossack Fonseca have continued to help their clients operate behind a veil of secrecy. Until this shadowy world is not held accountable politicians, civil servants, criminals and even celebrities will keep doing business by dodging the tax authorities.
Pakistan as a whole needs to take stiff measures, rather than being burden by economic depression due to Euro Bonds and increased indirect taxes. The nation needs to unite to fight an even bigger disease – the ruling elite that has eaten the country faster than the wood eating termites.