THIS is a quote from Balzac, a 19th century French novelist and playwright. And it is still true. In fact it is more true today than it ever was because today with that great wealth of yours you can buy great political power with which you can keep adding to your wealth and political power, literally unchallenged because your expanding political power had already bought off the law itself!
On the other hand, in this digital age it is becoming increasingly difficult for public figures, especially political leaders and particularly those that occupy the top political offices like the posts of presidents, prime ministers and finance ministers including their near and dear ones to escape close public scrutiny of all their perceived and real omissions and commissions no matter how small or insignificant.
So, the ruling PML-N and its leadership need not look so surprised and hurt by the glare of publicity that they are attracting since the Panama Papers were leaked to the international media last week-end.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s prompt decision to set up a judicial commission to, presumably, find answers to the questions being raised by the media regarding the sources of money that had enabled his two sons, Hussain and Hasan to float off-shore companies in 2006 and using the seemingly laundered money from these companies to do legitimate business in the UK and Saudi Arabia, falls well short of the public expectation.
In fact the very move to set up a judicial commission under a retired Supreme Court judge to probe the allegations seems to have redoubled public suspicions and the matter instead of taking the back bench on the media ranking, as a consequence, has attracted even more incisive scrutiny.
Reports of most commissions set up in the country’s eventful history to investigate national disasters, tragedies and losses were either shelved or have never succeeded in catching the light of the day till date due to expediencies. People have kept mum and media kept forgetting the bitter national tragedies after giving some reminders from time to time.
The journalist community is still perplexed about who may have killed investigative newsman Saleem Shahzad in May 2011 because the findings of the Justice Saqib Nisar Commission set up after his death failed to fix the responsibility.
Pakistanis are also clueless as to what may have led to the dismemberment of their country in 1971.The Hamoodur Rahman Commission had analysed the probable lapses of country’s Army during the East Pakistan debacle of 1971. It did reportedly come up with a lot of intriguing and explosive facts, but the actual truth remains a black hole.
This Commission had unveiled a host of factors behind the killing of thousands of Bangladeshis, besides unmasking the powerful men behind the rampant rape incidents, smuggling and looting of banks in East Pakistan.
Similarly, the report of the Abbottabad Commission, authored by Justice Javaid Iqbal, was submitted to the then Pakistani Premier on January 4, 2013 and was immediately labelled as “classified” by the then prime minister and its findings were not made public. Formed in June 2011, this commission was supposed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
This report had reportedly scrutinised more than 3,000 documents pertaining to the raid by US forces to kill Osama on May 2, 2011. The Commission had interviewed 201 people, including the country’s intelligence leaders, held 52 hearings and had conducted seven field visits, but an ordinary Pakistani citizen remains unaware of its findings to a large extent.
The question that needs to be probed first in connection with the Pakistan relevant facts containing in the Panama Papers is: From where did the two sons of the Prime Minister get the money in the first place to embark on such highly profitable entrepreneurship abroad. And if it was given to them by their father, then the next question that comes to mind is, how did Nawaz make such money and did he pay due taxes on these incomes.
Also there is this question as to how come the two sons who live abroad and do business abroad always accompany their Prime Minister father on his official trips to India, China and Turkey to meet business people. The next relevant question would be, when was the London property purchased and in whose name?
The matter becomes a bit clearer if we correlate it to the issue of Hudaibya Paper Mill case. The London High Court judgment in 1998 had found Sharifs as owners of the Mills. Both Sharif Brothers were shown as owners and paid dues when Parkland property was attached. The names of off-shore companies were disclosed at that time.
Here one would also like to recall the allegations made in a book titled Capitalism’s Achilles Heel by Raymond W Baker about how the Sharifs accumulated their wealth.
Opening Off-shore companies may not be illegal but it is important that through them the movement of assets and resources can be scrutinized to ascertain sources. How these assets were purchased and who provided funding?
A trustee may not be beneficiary but cannot hold shares as is evident in case of Maryam Nawaz. She is a non-filer and claims to be dependent on the father who has no source of income himself and lives in his mother’s house. Uncle Shahbaz also does not have a house of his own and lives in his wife’s house. Ms Nawaz says she has only one asset- a BMW gifted by a Gulf ruler. Did she hand it over to the treasury and as per rules paid the required nominal amount to own it? Much is made of Ittefaq Foundry asset. It was nationalized by Bhutto along with other major industries in 1970s. The family ‘re-purchased’ the unit from the government of General Zia at a nominal price and that too paid from loans obtained from nationalized banks without collateral thanks to the generosity of the then finance minister Ghulam Ishaq Khan who felt no qualms using public savings to enrich a private family.
And how much was the unit worth in 1981 when Sharif became finance minister in the Punjab province? One recalls that rules were amended to promote Ittefaq at the cost of Heavy Mechanical Complex and which also destroyed world’s second biggest ship-breaking industry located in Balochistan.