And now Paradise Leaks

NEARLY a year and a half after the Panama Papers leaks shook worlds’ richest by revealing the offshore holdings of some of the most powerful political players, the ICIJ released another treasure trove of data late on Sunday. Dubbed the Paradise Papers, the leaks consist of 13.4 million files from a combination of offshore service providers and the company registries of some of the world’s most secretive countries.
Thirteen members of the Trump cabinet — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Louis Ross Jr have been named in the leaks. The most prominent Pakistani name that emerged from the fresh leaks is that of Shaukat Aziz, the Musharraf-era finance minister who also remained prime minister from 2004 to 2007. Shaukat Aziz set up the Antarctic Trust in the name of his wife, three children and granddaughter weeks before he came to Pakistan to lead the finance ministry and these assets were never declared to any Pakistani institution in financial documents submitted between 2003 and 2006. Whilst the leaked documents do not provide any proof of criminality but for whatever reason, Aziz did hide his assets when submitting tax returns or other documents while in Pakistan and we expect that he will soon come up with his explanation in order to clear the mist. False declaration of assets especially by our leaders rightly gives a general impression that the money or property they have acquired is not clean. The recent leaks definitely show that the problem is not confined to Pakistan alone but if we really want to take forward the country, our relevant institutions will have to perform their duties to minimise corruption and bring to book those involved in misappropriation of public funds. A year and a half has lapsed since Panama Papers surfaced but so far only one family has been made accountable while others are roaming freely. This would not have happened if our elected and democratic governments had paid attention towards strengthening the State institutions, particularly anti-graft institutions. As the government and opposition are in talks to bring a new accountability law, we expect that they will not only complete the work immediately but will bring forward such a mechanism that gives greater integrity and autonomy to NAB so that it could perform its duties across the board, freely and without any influence. There is also ample need to strengthen the hands of FIA and FBR to fight the curses such as tax evasion and money laundering.

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