Over 700 Pakistanis, including some ministers and key members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, were listed among the individuals whose names were linked with the Pandora Papers, an investigation uncovering financial secrets held by high-profile individuals around the world.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday unveiled “Pandora Papers”, according to which 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, Geo News reported.
Some retired army officials, businessmen — including Axact’s CEO Shoaib Sheikh — and media company owners, have also been named in the leaks.
According to the report, 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 International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the non-profit newsroom and journalist network based in Washington DC, which organised the investigation, sent questions to the PM's spokesperson.
"And our thought was that it must not be so that it is his address. There must be two or three addresses. But the way they wanted to preempt the news, and then run statements of clarification, I do not understand what the need for this was. Such behaviour arouses suspicion," Cheema said.
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.