It started in April 2016 when more than 11 million documents from the secret files of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca with its list of worldwide clientele was leaked out. These records reveal a list of individuals who have paid the firm — and bought the benefits of the secretive, lax regulatory system in which it operates — to set up offshore entities in tax havens around the world. Besides, the law firm met their demands for a fee that helps mask real ownership but still show compliance.
In this revelation, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family figured in the list of people who owned offshore companies and assets. The assets in question include four expensive flats in Park Lane, London. In fact, as recently as Monday, a joint investigation team (JIT) found “glaring disparities” between their known sources of income and their actual wealth in its final report submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday, a media report said.
The JIT report claimed that the Prime Minister’s businesses alone are probably not enough to explain the family’s wealth. The probe team also recommended that the anti-corruption agency, National Accountancy Bureau (NAB), file a case against the premier, as reported by Dawn newspaper. The JIT, which was set up by the Supreme Court to investigate corruption claims that surfaced following the Panama Papers leak, spent at least two months probing the Sharif family’s wealth and produce its finding to the court.
Meanwhile, today, Sharif rubbished the JIT’s findings, dismissing the report as “trash” allegations that the Sharif family has accumulated wealth far above its earnings.
Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz tweeted saying: “JIT report REJECTED. Every contradiction will not only be contested but decimated in SC.”
JIT report REJECTED. Every contradiction will not only be contested but decimated in SC. NOT a penny of public exchequer involved: PMLN
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) July 10, 2017
Although the probe hasn’t been made public, leaked documents were widely circulated on social media with opposition leader and former Pakistan cricketer Imran Khan demanding Sharif’s resignation. The probe has also sparked fears among investors in Pakistan’s equity market. The country’s benchmark index has been on a retreat since June over palpable fears that in the event of Sharif’s removal, Pakistan would plunge into chaos once again after years of relative stability.
Pakistan’s Defence Minister and one of Sharif’s closest aides Asif Khawaja rejected the report as having “full of flaws”, adding that the ruling party would contest the JIT findings in the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the country’s apex court will decide on how to proceed with the JIT’s report and whether to call for a trial.
Back in April this year, the apex court had ruled that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to remove Sharif from office, but it did order further investigations on the Prime Minister.
The JIT team, constituted to probe into the irregularities in wealth of Prime Minister and his family, comprised members of powerful military bodies like the ISI. The probe soon became highly politicised as the Prime Minister’s backers as well as opponents fought over JIT’s probe and allegiance of its members, with Sharif’s allies alleging conspiracy against him. Imran Khan, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, alleged that Nawaz Sharif “has now lost all moral authority” and demanded his immediate resignation.
Meanwhile, in India, an eight-month long investigation by The Indian Express conducted in April last year revealed the names of over 500 Indians who figured in the Fonseca’s list of offshore companies, foundations and trusts. Executive editor Ritu Sarin, National Affairs Editor Vaidyanathan Iyer and Associate Editor Jay Mazoomdaar of The Indian Express were part of the investigation.