PTI, PMLN govts indifferent to Pandora Papers probe

Fakhar Durrani
Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The PTI as well as PML-N government have shown a lack of interest to investigate those named in the Pandora Papers. Nine months since the release of Pandora Papers that also contained names of more than 700 Pakistanis, including the members of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet, top officials, media owners and rich business families, the probe initiated by the previous government is yet to be completed.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on October 3 released the Pandora Papers with the collaboration of 600 journalists from across the world. On October 4, 2021, the then Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered for the constitution of a cell under the PM Inspection Commission (PMIC) to investigate the Pandora Papers. The fact finding Cell was also assisted by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. Former Chairman Prime Minister Inspection Commission Ahmed Yar Hiraj told The News that the fact finding Cell constituted by the then Prime Minister Imran Khan was working proficiently to complete the investigation. By the time when PTI left the government in April this year, the cell had completed almost 60 percent of the task it was assigned by the PM Inspection Commission, he said. “We don’t know what is the status of this investigation as the new government has taken over the charge,” commented Hiraj.

Talking about the status of the inquiry report, a special assistant to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif told The News that the inquiry report is lying in the PM's office. “No way forward has been decided yet. No one has read that file yet. Maybe the new PM Inspection Commission chairman will take up the matter,” said the SAPM. To a question about the appointment of chairman PMIC, the special assistant to the PM said the appointment is expected shortly. The PML-N led government took over the charge on April 10 this year and despite passage of almost three months, no one has even read the inquiry report.

Well-placed sources in the government told The News that after taking over the charge, the coalition government had to face many challenges, particularly financial and energy crisis. The Pandora Papers investigation will be concluded once the economic and energy crisis are resolved, added the sources.

Previously, in 2016 when the Panama Papers containing some of Nawaz Sharif’s family members' names were released, the opposition parties particularly PTI Chairman Imran Khan took to the streets and demanded the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take notice of it. Later, the Supreme Court of Pakistan constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to investigate the matter, which ultimately resulted in the disqualification of the-then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Many political leaders have expressed their concerns at the pace of Pandora Papers investigations. Unlike the Panama Papers, where a cohesive policy was adopted to investigate the offshore holders, the government is lacking a unified approach to hold an inquiry into the Pandora Papers. The political pundits believe that the enthusiasm and efforts made at the time of the Panama Papers is lacking during their investigations.

The question is why the PTI and PML-N governments have not shown the same keenness to investigate those whose names appeared in the Pandora Papers as it was done in the Panama Papers? Despite passage of more than nine months since the Pandora Papers were released, no government has taken it seriously to probe the offshore holders who secretly kept millions of dollars in the offshore jurisdictions. It is important to note here that initially, the fact finding commission had shortlisted almost 250 individuals named in the Pandora Papers to investigate and started sending them a questionnaire in December 2021 to seek information about their offshore companies or properties. Sources informed that the committee had received positive response from the offshore holders except in a few cases.

As per the standard questionnaire sent to the offshore holders, they were asked if they know their names have appeared in Pandora Papers as offshore trust/ entity holders, if they hold any public office, if any of their close relative(s) hold any public office, provision of the names of the companies/trusts/ entities, names of all shareholders, names of directors/trustees and details of foreign assets linked with the offshore company/trusts/ entities.