LONDON: A huge leak of confidential files from a Panamanian law firm that specialises in offshore tax havens recently lifted the lid on how the world corrupt political figures use tax havens to hide their wealth and evade paying tax.
The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC.
Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
According to documents available on the ICIJ website, the PM’s children Mariam, Hasan and Hussain “were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies”.
They set up at least four offshore companies in British Virgin Islands (BVI). These companies owned at least six upmarket properties overlooking London’s Hyde Park.
Mariam is described as “the owner of British Virgin Islands-based firms Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, incorporated in 1994 and 1993”.
On one of the documents released by ICIJ, the address listed for Nielsen Enterprises is Saroor Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The document, dated June 2012, describes Mariam Safdar as the ‘beneficial owner’.
According to ICIJ, “Hussain and Mariam signed a document dated June 2007 that was part of a series of transactions in which Deutsche Bank Geneva lent up to $13.8 million to Nescoll, Nielsen and another company, with their London properties as collateral.”
Hasan Nawaz Sharif is described as “the sole director of Hangon Property Holdings Limited incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in February 2007, which acquired Liberia-based firm Cascon Holdings Establishment Limited for about $11.2 million in August 2007.
The document leak is the latest political crisis that Mr. Sharif has had to face since becoming prime minister for the third time in 2013. His party swept the 2013 elections, but he faced accusations of large-scale fraud and manipulation, which he denied. The allegations turned into a political crisis that threatened Mr. Sharif’s government when politician Mr. Khan launched a monthslong protest in 2014. Mr Khan demanded that Mr. Sharif resign and called for a fair judicial probe into the election.
Mr. Sharif has also had to avoid conflict with Pakistan’s military. Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif is considered the most powerful figure in Pakistan, in charge of the country’s foreign and security policies.
Pakistan has swung between civilian and military governments since it became an independent state in 1947. A military coup in 1999 ended Mr. Sharif’s second term as prime minister. His first tern ended prematurely in 1993 amid allegations of corruption, which he also denied.
Dr ALI AHMAD
7 April 2016