PM's inner circle in focus as Pandora Papers expose 700 Pakistanis 

By: News Desk      Published: 09:56 PM, 3 Oct, 2021
PM's inner circle in focus as Pandora Papers expose 700 Pakistanis 

The Pandora Papers, an investigation uncovering financial secrets held by bigwigs across the world, have exposed 700 Pakistanis, 24NewsHD TV channel reported. 

The Papers leak has revealed that Prime Minister Imran Khan who came into power with a slogan to end the corruption and on the back of a movement launched on the basis of previous Panama Papers is surrounded by the owners of hidden offshore companies.

Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen, PTI Senator Faisal Vawda, Ishaq Dar’s son, Minister for Industries and Production Khusro Bakhtiar's family, PTI leader Abdul Aleem Khan, PML-Q lawmaker and Federal Minister Moonis Elahi, PPP leader Sharjeel Memon and ex-servicemen including former PAF chief Abbas Khatak's sons, Maj Gen (r) Nusrat Naeem, Lt-Gen (r) Nadir Pervaiz and Lt-Gen (r) Shafaatullah Shah and Exact Media’s CEO Shoaib Sheikh are also on the list.

Khan surrounded by hidden offshore companies’ owners

The Pandora Papers reveal that Khan has surrounded himself with people – cabinet ministers and their families, donors and other political allies – who have holdings hidden offshore.

Among those whose holdings have been exposed are Khan’s finance minister, Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, and his family, and the son of Khan’s former adviser for finance and revenue, Waqar Masood Khan. The records also reveal the offshore dealings of a top PTI donor, Arif Naqvi, who is facing fraud charges in the United States.

Shaukat Tarin, Khan’s finance minister, and members of Tarin’s family, own four offshore companies. According to Tariq Fawad Malik, a financial consultant who handled the paperwork on the companies, they were set up as part of the Tarin family’s intended investment in a bank with a Saudi business. He said that, “as a mandatory prerequisite by [the] regulator, we engaged with the Central Bank of Pakistan to obtain their ’in-principle’ approval for the said strategic investment.” The deal didn’t proceed.

Tarin didn’t respond to ICIJ’s questions. In a statement issued the day of the Pandora Papers’ publication, Tarin said: “The off-shore companies mentioned were incorporated as part of the fundraising process for my Bank.”

Omer Bakhtyar, the brother of Khan’s minister for industries, Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar, transferred a $1 million apartment in the Chelsea area of London to his elderly mother through an offshore company in 2018. The state anti-corruption agency has been investigating allegations that his family’s wealth inexplicably “ballooned” since Bhaktyar first became a minister in Pervez Musharaff’s government in 2004.

In a written statement to ICIJ, Makhdum Bakhtyar said that the anti-corruption agency’s investigation was founded on baseless allegations which had underestimated his family’s past wealth, and that it has so far not resulted in a formal complaint.

The son of Waqar Masood Khan, Khan’s chief adviser for finance and revenue between 2019 and 2020, co-owned a company based in the British Virgin Islands. Masood resigned in August amid a policy dispute. Khan told ICIJ that he did not know what his son’s company did. He said his son lived a modest life, and was not his financial dependent.

And Khan’s former minister for water resources, Faisal Vawda, set up an offshore company in 2012 to invest in U.K. properties, the Pandora Papers show. He resigned in March amid a controversy over his status as a dual U.S.-Pakistan national. Vawda told ICIJ that he has declared all worldwide assets held in his name to Pakistani tax authorities.

The files show how Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, a key political ally of Imran Khan’s, planned to put the proceeds from an allegedly corrupt business deal into a secret trust, concealing them from Pakistan’s tax authorities. Elahi did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment.

A family spokesman told ICIJ’s media partners that, “due to political victimisation misleading interpretations and data have been circulated in files for nefarious reasons.”  He added that the family’s assets “are declared as per applicable law”.

Military elite

The Pandora Papers reveal that in 2007, the wife of Gen. Shafaat Ullah Shah, then one of Pakistan’s leading generals and a former aide to President Pervez Musharraf, acquired a $1.2 million apartment in London through a discreet offshore transaction.

The property was transferred to Gen. Shah’s wife by an offshore company owned by Akbar Asif, a wealthy businessman who has opened restaurants in London and Dubai. Asif is the son of the Indian film director K Asif.  The younger Asif once met with Musharraf at London’s Dorchester Hotel to ask for an exception to Pakistan’s 40-year ban on Indian films to allow the release thereof one of his father’s most acclaimed movies. Musharraf granted the exception and later lifted the ban.

The leaked documents show that Asif has owned a multimillion-dollar property portfolio through a web of offshore companies.

One of those companies, called Talah Ltd. and registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), was used to transfer the London apartment to Shafaat Shah’s wife. Talah bought an apartment near the Canary Wharf financial district in 2006. The next year, Asif transferred ownership of the company to Fariha Shah.

Asif’s sister, Heena Kausar, is the widow of Iqbal Mirchi, a senior figure in a leading organised crime group, D-company. Mirchi was at the time under sanction as a drug trafficker by the U.S. Before his death in 2013, Mirchi was one of India’s most wanted men.

Gen. Shah told ICIJ that the purchase of the London apartment had been made through a former army colleague then acting as a consultant to London real estate firms, not through any personal connection to Asif. Gen. Shah said the flat “was named” to his wife because “I already had properties in my name while she did not have any and to balance tax deductions.”

Shah said that his wife has never met Asif and that he met him just once, while an aide to Musharaff, when Asif briefly lobbied the president for his father’s film “in the corridors of Dorchester Hotel when he had accompanied the hairstylist, who had come to cut Mrs Musharraf’s hair.”

Insights into the private wealth of top military officers and their families are exceedingly rare; journalists who have written about the military within Pakistan have been jailed, tortured and killed.

The Pandora Papers also reveal that Raja Nadir Pervez, a retired army lieutenant colonel and former government minister, owned International Finance & Equipment Ltd, a BVI-registered company. In the leaked files, the firm is involved in machinery and related businesses in India, Thailand, Russia and China.  Records show that in 2003, Pervez transferred his shares in the company to a trust that controls several offshore companies.

One of the trust’s beneficiaries is a British arms dealer. According to U.K. court documents, one of the trust’s other companies has helped broker arms sales from Belgian manufacturer FN Herstal SA to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., a state-owned Indian defence company.

While he owned International Finance & Equipment, Pervez also held several high-level positions in Pakistan’s government. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1985 and later joined Khan’s party. Pervez did not respond to reporters’ questions.

Another influential former military leader who shows up in the leaked documents is Maj. Gen. Nusrat Naeem, the ISI’s onetime director general of counterintelligence. He owned a BVI company, Afghan Oil & Gas Ltd, that was registered in 2009, shortly after his retirement.  He said that the company had been set up by a friend and that he didn’t use it for any financial transactions. Islamabad police later charged Naeem with fraud related to the attempted purchase of a steel mill for $1.7 million. The case was dropped.

The Pandora Papers also bring to light the notable offshore holdings of close relatives of three senior military figures.

Umar and Ahad Khattak, sons of the former head of Pakistan’s air force, Abbas Khattak, in 2010 registered a BVI company to invest what documents call “family business earnings” in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate. The Khattaks did not respond to reporters’ questions.

In an example involving intergenerational wealth transfer, Shahnaz Sajjad Ahmad inherited a fortune from her father, a retired lieutenant general, through an offshore trust that owns two London apartments, purchased in 1997 and 2011 in Knightsbridge, a short walk from Harrods. She, in turn, set up a trust for her daughters in 2003 in Guernsey, a tax haven in the English Channel. Her father was a favourite of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, the country’s first military dictator (1958-1969). After her father retired from the army, he founded one of Pakistan’s biggest business conglomerates. Ayub Khan’s son later married into the family and sits on the boards of several of the group’s businesses.

Shahnaz did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.

Khan’s financial backers

Khan’s financial backers are also prominent in the files.

Naqvi, the financier and major donor to Khan’s 2013 campaign,  owned several offshore companies. The files show that in 2017, Naqvi transferred ownership of U.K. holdings – three luxury apartments, his country estate and a property in London’s suburbs – into an offshore trust operated by Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank declined to respond to ICIJ’s concerning the beneficiaries of the trust.

The next year, he presided over the spectacular collapse of his Dubai-based private equity firm, Abraaj Group. U.S prosecutors charged Naqvi with engineering a $400 million fraud against Abraaj investors and this year persuaded a court to allow his extradition from the U.K. Naqvi has denied wrongdoing.

Tariq Shafi, a leading businessman and another PTI donor, held $215 million through offshore companies, the records show.

Neither Shafi nor Naqvi responded to ICIJ’s questions.

The non-profit newsroom and journalist network based in Washington DC, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), has received more than 11.9 million documents containing 2.94 terabytes worth of confidential information from service providers who helped set up and manage offshore companies and trusts in tax havens around the world.

The ICIJ shared the data with 150 media organisations and has led the broadest collaboration in journalism history. 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.