Ali Ashraf Khan
A massive leak of secret files from a Panamanian law firm that specialises in offshore tax havens has revealed the often-murky financial wheeling and dealing of some of the world’s most powerful political players, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the king of Saudi Arabia, Iceland’s prime minister, former UN secretary general Kofi Anan, North Korean and Syrian business tycons, Benazir Bhutto, and son and the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, among dozens of others. The leak had occurred already two years ago and since then several international journalists, among them those of the French Le Monde, the British Guardian and the German Süddeutsche Zeitung have worked on the evaluation of the 11.5 million documents in their hands, among them emails, letters, account statements and others.
The law firm Mossack Fonseca from which the data had been stolen after their accounts had been hacked is in the focus of international tax departments and tax evasion tracing agencies. The world will be of course more interested in names they know better such as king of Saudi Arabia, ex-Ruler of Qatar, associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin who stashed two billion dollars through banks and shadow companies, the Ukrainian president and brother-in-law of the Chinese president, among other prominent figures. Other names involve well-known football players and the members of the scandalous FIFA.
For Pakistan is especially interesting that the name of Nawaz Sharif, his family and particularly his three children are named as owners of off-shore properties that belonged to them in the years 2007 when they lived in Saudi Arabia. But the Sharifs are not alone; Benazir Bhutto and family, Javed Pasha, Saifullahs, Hashwanis, Lakhanis, relatives of Shahbaz, Chaudhrys among off shore assets owners. The demon of corruption that has now taken the shape of world octopus with its tentacles spread around the globe, Pakistan is one unfortunate country where corruption culture has become a way of life and the federal minister who perhaps also owns an off-shore account is trading allegations against PTI Chief Imran Khan are busy confusing the nation through media appearances to escape charges and fool the poor people of Pakistan – the main victims.
Basically offshore accounts and firms with the purpose of tax evasion are entirely legal. All efforts to stop this practice so far has ended without any success because those who would have to take action are themselves involved and are hiding their money from their respective national tax departments. While it has been known in general that such opportunities exist and that billions of dollars are kept there the details now leaked out with names, addresses and amounts give the whole story a different dimension. Imagine how much money has been horded in those accounts while more than half of humanity is starving, suffering from malnutrition, the lack of clean drinking water and other basic facilities. And we are told that there was no money or not enough money available to pay for the uplift of the poor of the world.
Look at Pakistan where three quarters of the population are illiterate, have no access to clean drinking water and are hungry; they have no access to nutritious food like fruit and clean vegetable and no access to health care. If the money that it lying outside the country was brought here Pakistan could send the IMF packing, could pay all its debts and solve the poverty problem. This country calls itself an Islamic republic and Nawaz Sharif and most of the others call themselves Muslims while knowingly are involved in hording money which is absolutely forbidden in Islam.
Our memories are still fresh when in 1994-5 PPP candidate Mian Aziz Chun who contested and lost against Mian Shahbaz Sharif and the losing candidate against Mian Nawaz Sharif obtained copies of mandatory Asset declaration statement from the Election Commission of Pakistan, on this information FACC found big discrepancies in their collateral given to different banks for obtaining loans for Ittefaq foundry and Sugar Mills, Chairman FACC Malik Mohd Qasim held a press conference at Islamabad Hotel announced to send reference to the then Speakers of National and Punjab Assembly to disseat them as provided in the Law. But this could not materialise as the government feared about many PPP legislatures also losing their seats on this point.
The Panama papers are showing Benazir Bhutto’s and Abdur Rehman Malik’s names in the Oil business beneficiaries from Iraq that was deposited in off-shore investment joint account; this is verifiable. As we remember a master stroke of International corruption was played by the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, when he launched the highly tainted “Oil for food programme” from Iraq for supplying staple food to Iraqis living under blockaid by allocating millions of dollars quotas to world dignitaries whose names or connections have now appeared in the Panama papers, including that of Benazir Bhutto as political bribe. Nothing like food was ever shipped by her from personal account to claim the benefits that were later invested in off-shore accounts. Almost all recipients of quota had front man who shipped cargo unfit for human consumption through Contecna services, which was later investigated by ex-Chief of Federal Reserve, that report has exposed interesting facts about corruption. My advice to all those mentioned in Panama papers having off shore accounts in Panama or elsewhere is to accept their crime and apologise before the nation and declare that they will return their plundered wealth in the national exchequer forthwith.
The Saudi king turns out to be another beneficiary of off-shore assets, whereas he didn’t need doing this, why he is hiding this money from his people, the ummah and humanity as such. But not only is the Muslim world to be blamed for such conduct. Capitalism of the Western world that has expanded into Islamic countries and the East has promoted the worst characteristics of mankind: greed and selfishness. Capitalism is a system that thrives on greed and selfishness; it is unable to fight poverty and all it produces is a growing polarisation of wealth in the hands of a few and a growing mass of paupers on the other side.
The world capitalist market has sucked into itself almost all the economies. The glittering dollar hype and Federal Reserve are perhaps yet another tool to spread more inequality and corruption to control the world for the capitalist agenda. The ever growing polarisation between rich and poor is already dislodging the equilibrium of the world and will finally lead to catastrophe. Capitalism has no cure for this ill. It is only Islam that – if properly understood and Islamic social justice system adopted as the only economic order – can provide a sound and workable alternative that will defeat poverty and prevent overly riches for a few and misery for the teeming millions. God bless humanity and Pakistan.
— The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.