P-Leaks and accountability

By Syed Sadaqat Ali Shah

Panama leaks are not first in the contemporary world’s history to divulge massive secrecies of leaders around the globe. Yet it tops in revealing 11.5 million files from the data base of world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm. Comparing to revelations of WikiLeaks in 2010 (1.7 GB) the size of Panama Leaks is 260 GB making the leak one of the bigger ever. P-Leaks and other leaks are comparable to the extent of ‘revelations’ it however is matchless and unique in contrast to other revelations since it named many Pakistanis in its long list of dishonest clients including PM Nawaz Sharif and his family.

The ownership of expensive and pricey properties abroad by Sharif family is not new. The distinction between then and now is this time the revelations were made at international level. The records this time were obtained by a German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung which was subsequently shared with ICIJ, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The ICIJ shared them with international partners including BBC and the Guardian. The revelations therefore have been proved that Sharif family owns expensive properties abroad, London one of them. The leaks have strengthened domestic beliefs of commoners about Sharif family. Our dear former president Asif Ali Zardari has escaped this time.

The premier’s address to the nation and setting up judicial commission to probe ‘allegations’ leveled at him and his family are nothing but an ill-attempt to purify himself and his family. The Panama Leaks are so vivid and transparent that there is no need to set up commission to probe ‘allegations’. The PM needs to do one thing; resign and face the allegations until they prove wrong. Why one Prime Minister (Sigmundur Gaunnlaugsson of Iceland) resigns and another one (Nawaz Sharif) is not deterred by divulgences of Panama leaks? The answer is not hard. Democracy matters. The democracy in Pakistan is deeply flawed as compared to Iceland’s democracy.

What makes Premier Nawaz Sharif different from prime minister of Iceland is prime minister of Iceland resigned from his post whilst Premier Nawaz Sharif addressed his nation to prove Panama Leaks as faux and false. One more distinction is prime minister of Iceland admitted his wrongdoings while Premier Nawaz Sharif prioritized justifications in lieu of resigning of his wrong doings and dishonesty.

Simultaneously British Prime Minister David Cameron’s admission that his father had offshore investment and that he benefitted from offshore investment the children of PM Nawaz Sharif are defending their father and justifying his investment abroad as legal and legitimate. It is of no surprise in context of Pakistan that politicians have wealth abroad under varying nomenclatures and names. The World Bank for instance on Saturday claimed two offshore secret companies are owned by Nawaz Sharif namely Shamrock and Chendron Jersy. What more proofs PM want to be proved?

It will be appreciable if premier at least admit he benefitted from offshore investment and owns investment abroad. His evading stance on Panama Leaks gives birth to other controversial and complicated questions. The Sharif family has two choices; one to admit P Leaks’ revelations or deny those revelations openly. They are not doing anyone of them- not admitting nor denying, but justifying their wealth instead which is in every sense indefensible and unjustified.

In case Sharif family openly denies allegations the dilemma will not be resolved and dust not to settle because World Bank too have jumped in to claim Nawaz Sharif owns two offshore companies and that transactions worth Rs 2 billion were made in the name of Sharif family. About 0.313 million pounds were transacted one time and about 1 million pounds were transferred to Hassan Nawaz, son of PM Nawaz Sharif, by Komber Group. Besides these Hussain Nawaz, according to a private TV channel, transacted about 1.914 million US dollars in the account of his father. So there is in case of open denial of holding offshore companies no way to refute WB’s claims.

The admission of holding offshore companies and hidden wealth by Sharif family nevertheless can to a larger extent compromise their political career. The gap will be filled by PTI, PML-N arch rival, in upcoming general elections if PM admits. So what Nawaz Sharif needs to do? As mentioned resign and face claims.

Holding or parking money offshore is neither illegal nor illegitimate by law. Offshore investments offer tax benefits to foreign investors and allow them to park their money without paying any taxes. So the justification, for owning offshore companies, by Sharif family is valid. Questions however spills when people ask where the money transferred abroad came from? How the respectable family generated huge sum of money? And were those transfers legal and by law?

The announcement of judicial commission to be led by former apex court judge by PM in his address to the nation has made the commission controversial. To have a neutral and apolitical judicial commission Saad Rasool, a lawyer based in Lahore, very well defines a neutral and apolitical judicial commission; a judicial commission can neither be announced by PM nor can judge other than serving judge of the apex court lead the commission. The PM can only request Chief Justice of the supreme court to form commission and it is Chief Justice not Prime Minister who decides who will be part of that commission.

The PM therefore if sees himself as an accountable patriotic citizen should request CJ to form an independent commission led by a serving judge to investigate matters relevant to Panama Leaks. It is useless and wastage of time in fact to promulgate commission at premier’s own choice and discretion. I wonder despite stark revelations and divulgence by Panama Leaks and World Bank why PM Nawaz Sharif has hinted to form judicial commission to probe P Leaks. What will be its end result? Obviously coming out as clean as white and innocent as he has done nothing wrong. Nation remembers what happened when commission was formed to probe Model Town bloodbath.

So what shall we expect of the prevailing crisis? Based on previous trends and judicial commissions’ decisions we can expect nothing but clean and innocent Premier. With self-chosen judicial commission we can expect undoubtedly biased outcome and decisions which will add to declining credence of the ruling party. The ruling party should firstly admit Panama Leaks and if it cannot do so it should then request apex court of the country to form a commission to be led by a serving judge to investigate the matter. The question remains; will, if commission’s decision tends to be in favor of Sharif family, it restores Premier’s credibility? And if decision of the commission tends to be against Sharif family will the system hold esteemed Sharif family accountable and will then Sharif family face those legitimate charges?

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Syed Sadaqat Ali Shah

Syed Sadaqat Ali Shah is a researcher and works on banking regulations, competition and reforms.

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