October 20, 2021

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Pandora Papers: Over 300 Indians, 700 Pakistanis named in financial data leak

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Pandora Papers: Over 300 Indians, 700 Pakistanis named in financial data leak
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Pandora Papers: Over 300 Indians, 700 Pakistanis named in financial data leak
Pandora Papers: Over 300 Indians, 700 Pakistanis named in financial data leak

NEW DELHI: The names of several Indian businessmen, celebrities and politicians have been revealed in an unprecedented leak of financial documents known as the “Pandora Papers“.
As many as 380 Indians are on the list of the global elite who have been exposed for ringfencing their wealth through shadowy financial transactions and using offshore tax havens to hide assets worth millions of dollars.
The “treasure trove” of nearly 11.9 million confidential files has been obtained by a global network of reporters and publication houses called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). As many as 600 journalists from 150 news organisations sifted through the documents for two years to come up with the findings.
Prominent Indians in Pandora Papers
The ICIJ and its partner in India, The Indian Express, mentioned the names of famous Indians such as cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar, businessman Anil Ambani, diamantaire Nirav Modi’s sister and Biocon promoter Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s husband.
The documents show that Tendulkar, along with family members, owned an offshore entity in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) that was liquidated in 2016 shortly after the leak of a similar set of financial documents called the Panama Papers.
However, Tendulkar’s representative said the transactions were completely legitimate and also declared to the income tax authorities, according to the report.
Businessman Anil Ambani, who recently filed for bankruptcy in a UK court, is also mentioned in the documents concerning off-shore entities.
The younger Ambani’s lawyer, however, also told the newspaper that his client had followed all required procedures and made declarations before the concerned authorities.
Furthermore, the Indian Express revealed that a month before fugitive diamond jeweller Nirav Modi fled India in January 2018, his sister Purvi Modi set up a firm in the British Virgin Islands to act as a corporate protector of a trust formed through the Trident Trust Company, Singapore.
Purvi Modi’s lawyer, however, denied all allegations of wrongdoing, the newspaper reported.
The report also named the husband of Biocon promoter Kiran Mazumder Shaw, who had set up a trust with keys to a person who was banned by Sebi for insider trading.
The Biocon promoter, however, refuted the documents and said that her husband’s offshore trust is “bonafide” and “legitimate”.
Pakistanis in the pack
As many as 700 Pakistanis, including members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, have been named in the leaked documents.
According to the ICIJ, members of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including current and former cabinet ministers, secretly owned an array of companies and trusts holding millions of dollars of hidden wealth.
Documents accessed by Pakistani investigative journalists show that Khan’s water resources minister, Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, contacted a Singapore-based offshore services provider Asiaciti in 2016 about setting up a trust to invest the profits from a family land deal that had been financed by what the lender later claimed was an illegal loan.
The bank told Pakistani authorities that the loan had been approved due to the influence of Elahi’s father, a former deputy prime minister.
Asiaciti records say that Elahi backed off from putting money into a trust in Singapore after the provider told him it would report the details to Pakistani tax authorities.
Elahi did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.
According to the investigation’s findings, Pakistan finance minister Tarin and his family members own four offshore companies.
It quoted Tariq Fawad Malik, a financial consultant who handled the paperwork for the companies, as saying that they were set up as part of the Tarin family’s intended investment in a bank with a Saudi business.
Pakistani generals
The leaked documents also provide a rare glimpse into the secret financial dealings of the Pakistani generals.
According to Dawn.com, the investigation revealed that “a luxury London apartment was transferred from the son of a famous Indian movie director to the wife of a three-star general”.
The general told ICIJ the property purchase was disclosed and proper.
According to details, the wife of retired Lt Gen Shafaat Ullah Shah, a former aide to then-president Pervez Musharraf, acquired a $1.2 million apartment in London “through a discreet offshore transaction” in 2007.
The investigation found that the property was transferred to Lt Gen Shah’s wife by an offshore company owned by Akbar Asif, the son of famous Indian film director K Asif.
Interestingly, Akbar’s sister, Heena Kausar, is the widow of Iqbal Mirchi, a key figure in the Dawood Ibrahim-led crime syndicate “D-company”.
Other big revelations …
Jordan King
The ICIJ has claimed that Jordan’s monarch, King Abdullah II, used an English accountant in Switzerland and lawyers in the British Virgin Islands to secretly purchase 14 luxury homes worth $106 million, including a $23 million property in California overlooking a beach.
It pointed out that the country relies on foreign aid to support its people and house millions of refugees.
UK attorneys for the king told the ICIJ that he was not required to pay taxes under Jordanian law, has never misused public funds and has “security and privacy reasons to hold property through offshore companies.”
Tony Blair
Another big name that has cropped up in the investigation is that of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
According to the ICIJ, the Pandora Papers show that in 2017, Blair and his wife, Cherie, became the owners of an $8.8 million Victorian building by acquiring the British Virgin Islands company that held the property.
The London building now hosts Cherie Blair’s law firm.
The records indicate that Cherie Blair and her husband, who served as a diplomat in the Middle East after stepping down as prime minister in 2007, bought the offshore company that owned the building from the family of Bahrain’s industry and tourism minister, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani.
The ICIJ claimed that by purchasing the company shares instead of the building, the Blairs benefited from a legal arrangement that saved them from having to pay more than $400,000 in property taxes. The ICIJ also published the versions of the Blairs and the al-Zayanis. Both sides said they didn’t initially know about each other’s involvement in the deal.
“Cherie Blair said that her husband was not involved in the transaction and that its purpose was bringing the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime. She also said that she “did not want to be the owner of a BVI company and that the seller for their own purposes only wanted to sell The company. The company is now closed,” the consortium said.
Czech Prime Minister
Andrej Babis, who is currently running for re-election, moved $22 million through offshore companies to buy a lavish estate on the French Riviera in 2009 while keeping his ownership secret, ICIJ said.
The data release revealed that Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family traded around $540 million worth of UK property in recent years, reported the Guardian, one of the ICIJ’s media partners.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The leak also links Russian President Vladimir Putin to secret assets in Monaco.
While the documents do not have a direct mention of Putin, many of his close associates, such as a childhood friend and a former flame, feature in the papers.
Celebrities
Singer Shakira and model Claudia Schiffer have also been linked to some off-shore companies.
The Underworld
According to the ICIJ, mobster Raffaele Amato, who has been tied to at least a dozen killings in Europe was also linked to a shell company.
The documents provide details about a shell company, registered in the United Kingdom, that Amato used to buy land in Spain, shortly before fleeing there from Italy to set up his own criminal gang.
Amato, whose story helped inspire the highly praised movie “Gomorrah,” is serving a 20-year prison sentence.
(With inputs from agencies)

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