Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday set up a high-level commission to probe 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.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the high-level probe commission would bring facts before the people of Pakistan.
"The high-level cell under the Prime Minister's Inspection Commission will investigate all individuals mentioned in the Pandora Papers and will present facts before the nation,” the minister said.
"It is unfortunate that the names of the owners of all major media houses in Pakistan are included in Pandora leaks. The Ministry of Information is launching a transparent investigation into the matter and Pemra is being asked to respond,” he tweeted.
The move comes a day after 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.
In addition to key members of Khan's Cabinet, retired civilian and military officials, businessmen as well as owners of the country’s top media outlets have owned companies and trusts holding millions of dollars in offshore jurisdictions, according to The News newspaper.
Prime Minister Khan who had vociferously campaigned against opposition leaders for their alleged wealth deposited in the foreign banks was left red faced when the ICIJ probe showed some of his cabinet colleagues, including the finance minister, among the listed personalities.
Sources said that Khan chaired a meeting of ministers and party leaders to review the situation in the wake of the Pandora Papers.
The paper reported that probe named as the Pandora Papers showed that the retired military officials who owned offshore companies or properties include Lt Gen (retd) Muhammad Afzal Muzaffar’s son, Major General (retd) Nusrat Naeem, Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Maqbool’s son-in-law, Lt-Gen (retd) Tanvir Tahir’s wife, Lt-Gen (retd) Ali Kuli Khan’s sister, Air Chief Marshal Abbas Khattak’s sons and retired army officer and politician Raja Nadir Pervez.
The media owners who held offshore companies include a publisher of Jang group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, CEO Dawn media group Hamid Haroon, Publisher of Express Media Group Sultan Ahmed Lakhani, the Gourmet Group which also owns a TV channel GNN and publisher of Pakistan Today the late Arif Nizami.
Former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s son, Ali Dar, Sindh’s former information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon and former chairman Federal Bureau of Revenue and Secretary Finance Salman Siddiq’s son Yawar Salman owned companies in the tax havens.
The Pandora Papers have also revealed that the owner of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise, Peshawar Zalmi, and renowned industrialist Javed Afridi owns three offshore companies in the BVI jurisdiction. Afridi is the beneficial owner of Old Trafford Properties Ltd, Sutton Gas Works Properties Ltd and Gas Works Property Ltd.
Earlier in a statement issued late on Sunday, Khan welcomed the Pandora Papers exposing the ill-gotten wealth of elites, accumulated through tax evasion and corruption and laundered out to financial ‘havens’.
"My government will investigate all our citizens mentioned in the Pandora Papers and if any wrongdoing is established, we will take appropriate action. I call on the international community to treat this grave injustice as similar to the climate change crisis,” he had said.
He said that just like the East India Company plundered the wealth of India, ruling elites of the developing world are doing the same.
"Unfortunately, the rich states are neither interested in preventing this large-scale plunder nor in repatriating this looted money,” Khan said.
He said that the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI) calculated a staggering USD 7 trillion in stolen assets parked in largely offshore tax-havens.
Khan said that his “over-two decades of struggle has been premised on the belief that countries are not poor but corruption causes poverty because money is diverted from being invested in our people”.
This resource-theft causes devaluation, leading to thousands of poverty-related deaths, he said, adding that if unchecked, inequalities between rich and poor states will increase as poverty rises in the latter.
"This, in turn, will lead to a flood of economic migration from the poor to the rich states, causing further economic and social instability across the globe,” Khan added.
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.
Speaking of Prime Minister Khan's Lahore residence, he said that the ICIJ, the non-profit newsroom and journalist network based in Washington DC, which organised the investigation, sent questions to the Prime Minister’s spokesperson.
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.