THE PANAMA Papers investigation, which led to the resignation of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Friday, had revealed over 15 months ago that three out of four offshore companies set up by his children in the British Virgin Islands owned at least six upscale properties overlooking London’s Hyde Park. On April 4, 2016, The Indian Express reported these findings as a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which investigated thousands of documents maintained by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca (MF) linking political leaders, businessmen and celebrities to offshore firms that operated under the tax radar.
While Nawaz Sharif was not named in the MF records, documents revealed that his children — daughter Maryam Safdar, and sons Hussain and Hassan Nawaz Sharif — mortgaged four of the properties in London to Deutsche Bank (Suisse) SA for a loan of GBP 7 million, and that the Bank of Scotland part-financed the purchase of two other apartments.
The documents showed that two of the offshore firms linked to the Sharifs – Nescol Ltd and Nielson Holdings Ltd — were incorporated in the BVI in 1993 and 1994, respectively, and were held by one bearer share each. In February 2006, they showed, Maryam signed a resolution of Nescol Ltd as the “sole (bearer) shareholder”. MF was appointed as the registered agent through Minerva Trust, which described Maryam as the beneficial owner of both companies.
In August 2008, BVI law firm Farara Kerins issued two legal opinions and identified “leasehold properties known as 17. and 17A Avenfield House, 117 to 128 Park Lane, London, W1K 7AH and car parking space 9 and box room 6. registered. with Title Numbers NGL342976 and NGL342977 respectively” as Nescol’s property. The firm also identified two titles of 16 and 16A Avenfield House as Nielson’s property.
In October 2008, Deutsche Bank (Suisse) SA sanctioned a “cross collateralised” loan of up to GBP 7 million ? GBP 3.5 million to Coomber Group Inc (BVI) and GBP 1.75 million each to Nescol and Nielson ? against the four Avenfield House titles. Earlier, in June 2007, Sharif’s elder son Hussain and Maryam had signed the mortgage agreement for Coomber Group Inc, records showed. Records also showed that a London-based law firm, Freeman Box, represented the Sharifs in England for three MF-linked companies owned by them.
In 2012, following queries from the BVI’s Financial Investigation Agency (FIA), MF invoked the Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Code of Practice (2008) to question Minerva for information about Nescol and Nielson. In response, MF records showed, Minerva Trust & Corporate Services Ltd revealed that both companies “owned a UK proper each” ?16 and 17 Avenfield House ? and were “owned by the same beneficial owner” Maryam Safdar.
MF passed on the details to FIA and decided not to provide nominee (proxy) directors or shareholders for Maryam’s companies. Maryam was the owner of Nescoll and Nielsen at least until July 2014 when the companies changed their law firm and agent, according to the records. Hassan, Nawaz Sharif’s younger son, also owned at least one company in the BVI: Hangon Properties Holding Ltd, which was incorporated in February 2007 with an authorised capital of $ 50,000.
In June 2007, it issued 10 shares to Cascon Holdings Establishment Limited (Liberia). The next month, the shares were transferred to Hassan for GBP 5.5 million. Records also showed that the Bank of Scotland sanctioned mortgage loan of an unknown amount to Hangon “to assist in the purchase of the property (Flat Nos 3 and 4 ) at 1 Hyde Park Place, London”. Asked to take a call on Hassan as a client by MF’s compliance department in October 2007, Jurgen Mossack, the co-owner of MF, wrote: “Si, correcto. NO aceptar el cliente en forma directa, por mi parte (Yes, correct. As far as I’m concerned, DON’T accept the client directly).”