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Humayun Gauhar | 29 APRIL, 2016

Panama Papers: The Question Before Nawaz 'Offshore' Sharif


Pity the writer of weekly columns when the situation changes on the hour changing Pakistan’s political landscape with it too. One is left in a tizzy. For example, my deadline for this article was Friday 3 pm; the prime minister was to speak to the nation at 7.15 pm. So don’t blame me for ignoring the things he might say. That will have to wait till next Sunday. But I’m sure he will beat around the bush and not answer the real questions: where did the money in the Panama companies owned by your children come from: was it legally earned or not? I bet you will not get answers to these questions. But he is likely to bend his knee to the opposition’s demand to set up a judicial commission under the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Best, therefore, to make this article brief and watch how things unfold.

Not unlike Hamlet Prince of Denmark who was trapped in a conundrum of his bi-polarity – “to be or not to be” – our very own Hamlet ‘Offshore’ Sharif is trapped in the question: “Do I love my unexplained wealth more or my throne?” That is the question, as Hamlet would have said. The answer will determine not only the fate of the ‘Offshore’ Sharif family but also the fate of a bankrupt, ungoverned, paralyzed Pakistan that has been reduced to a criminal enterprise.

Best is for Nawaz ‘Offshore’ Sharif, assuming that he is convinced that he is innocent as he and his stooges so loudly proclaim, is to sue the organization of journalists that investigated numerous companies set up in the tax haven of Panama identifying thousands of offshore companies, including those connected with heads of state and government, politicians, generals, judges, celebrities, businesses and businessmen and women, obviously to hide ill-gotten wealth. Even money honestly earned but secreted in tax havens to dodge tax is dodgy to say the least. Not one has sued. What does that tell you? That they know they are guilty and would lose their cases for the journalists must have investigated each case thoroughly and done forensic audits before going public. But if Nawaz Sharif is genuinely convinced of his innocence he must sue them, for in so doing he will impress many of his own people and win a lot of political brownie points. It will also lower the stink emanating from the state of Pakistan, higher than the stink of ‘something’ in Hamlet’s State of Denmark. But the stink in Pakistan will get higher if and when the second installment of leaks comes out and will reach its zenith if and when such offshore companies are discovered in numerous tax havens pockmarking the world almost entirely in the ‘law abiding democratic’ West.

But he will not sue anyone for he knows that in so doing so he may open a horrific Pandora’s box that could sink him and the ‘Offshore’ Sharif family. The evidence along with the forensic audit has already been done by the investigating journalists and will come out in court. Then what? Is it to divert attention and waste time that Nawaz Sharif insists on setting up his own whitewashing judicial and inquiry commissions and hiring forensic audit firms? Investigations, money trail tracing, forensic audits and what have you were surely done by the investigating journalists to protect themselves against such eventualities before going public. So why do that all over again? Just ask them for the evidence or you will certainly get it in court, as is a litigant’s right.

The Panama Papers have sent Pakistan into such a tailspin that its government has been placed in clear and present danger. So apart from suing the Panama lot, what other options does Nawaz Sharif have? The most obvious one is to resign like other heads of state and government have already done. Better than pointing fingers at others, hiding behind the dirty cover of self-made judicial commissions and investigation agencies manned largely by your own appointees that naturally make their credibility questionable and making a perfect ass of oneself by besieging Imran’s ex-wife Jemima’s and her mother’s houses in London. Only shows that you have gone off your rocker completely.

Nawaz Sharif must be aware of the public message the investigative journalists who worked on the Panama Papers gave to Reddit.com.

“Over a year ago, an anonymous source contacted Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) [a German newspaper] and submitted encrypted internal documents of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that sells anonymous offshore companies around the world.

“Ultimately, SZ acquired about 2.6 terabytes of data, making the leak the biggest that journalists had ever worked with. The source wanted neither financial compensation nor anything else in return, apart from a few security measures. The Suddeuntsche Zeitung decided to analyze the data in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). In the past 12 months, around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents.”

The Atlantic, a well-known American journal, told us:

“The German news paper Suddeuntsche Zeitung said Sunday it received encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based company that sells offshore shell companies around the world, from an anonymous source more than a year ago. The leak amounts to approximately 11.5 million documents – or 2.6 terabytes’ worth of data – on 214,000 shell companies spanning a period between the 1970s and 2016.

“ ‘The data provides (sic) rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows,’ Suddeuntsche Zeitung said in its reports. “It proves how a global industry led by major banks, law firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous.

Suddeuntsche Zeitung shared the information with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 100 news outlets in nearly 80 countries. Almost 400 journalists have combed through the documents over the past year.

“…The BBC reported the leak reveals information about 72 current or former heads of state… The reports…only scratch the surface of the leaked material, which eclipses in size the WikiLeaks dump of American diplomatic cables in 2010 and Edward Snowden’s disclosures in 2013… The first reports from the Panama Papers mark the beginning of a steady drip of potentially incriminating information.”

That’s stunning. Even more stunning if you find time to read a lot more that is available. Sorry Mr. Prime Minister, your goose is cooked and if you don’t jump out of the oven fast you will be incinerated.

As expected, the politicians ganged up to save the man-eating system of which they are beneficiaries. They love it more than they love Nawaz ‘Offshore’ Sharif and will certainly not allow it to be sacrificed at the altar of his odious dynasty. So to save their beloved system they might persuade the prime minister to resign or even gang up with his party to pass a no confidence motion and elect a new prime minister from this National Assembly. Or, Nawaz Sharif could pull the rug out from everyone’s feet, the President to dissolve the National Assembly, appoint a caretaker government to hold elections in two months. But he is in grave danger of losing them to his nemesis Imran Khan so he might balk at the idea. And who knows if the caretaker government will not last more than two months? Let’s see.

What has made it even more frightening for the Sharif family and their cronies is the Army Chief’s statement a few days ago that unless corruption is finished root and branch Pakistan will not be rid of bad governance and make progress. Then last Thursday he sacked a number of army officers from a 3-star Lieutenant General downwards for corruption. In so doing, General Raheel has not only shown the way but indirectly said that if you don’t do it for the civilian side, I will. As I said, Goose cooked Mr. Prime Minister. There’s nowhere to hide, least of all behind judicial commissions. So fall on your sword, or if you are too scared to do what a man should do, resign. “Go, in the name of God go.”

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