Pandora Papers: Another Proof of the Elite Capture


Hafeez Khan

Pandora Papers are a reality check. Really and truly, the political divide is a façade. There are the takers and those who get taken every five years. Corruption, money laundering, bribes and loot have no ideology. This common thread runs across party lines. It does not end there. It has permeated into media, uniforms, bureaucrats, businessmen including their kith and kin. The malaise runs deep and has taken roots within every segment of society.
This distortion and Machiavellian manipulation of the global financial system started decades ago. The temptation to steal and hide the proceeds to shelter them against exposure goes back centuries. It got a boost during World War II when the persecuted Jews and corrupt Nazis converged on Switzerland to conceal their wealth. The temptation of anonymous numbered accounts, untraceable shell companies and accommodating Swiss bankers protected by Secrecy Laws was irresistible. Money poured into Switzerland from all over the globe including the Zardaris.
I remember visiting Switzerland and interacting with businessmen and bankers in their heady days of the eighties. Geneva had more Rolls Royce and Mercedes limousines than anywhere in the world. The beneficiaries were rich and famous, drug barons, organised crime, dicey business leaders, corrupt dictators and politicians, and unscrupulous public servants. The allure and convenience of concealed wealth reached a pinnacle in the nineties forcing the US and other world powers to pressurise the Swiss banks to disclose client information.
The effect was similar to clampdown on “Bazaar-e-Husn” in Lahore. It spread to all parts of the City. The same thing happened to hot money. The beneficiaries started to look for safe havens elsewhere. There were plenty of takers. Islands dotted around the Caribbean, the British Isles and Europe dramatically emerged as willing participants. A common thread ran across all these host destinations. Weak powerless governments, stupidly uninterested; administratively unable or determinedly averse to avoid easy pickings, opened their doors. Dubious law firms, unprincipled bankers and fraudulent accountants were quick to jump in and get a firm control on this huge cash cow.
Criminal investigators and tax officials were rendered powerless in this massive fraud. Transparency International estimates at least 32 trillion dollars are hidden away in these untraceable assets. Rich stealing from their own countries was only one component. The biggest fish were corrupt rulers and elite of the third-world countries robbing their exchequers blind, indebting their nations and concealing their ill-gotten gains in these off-shore tax-havens.
Pakistan is no exception. It is a society with clear demarcations between a small elite that controls or has access to levers of power. Then, there are the teeming millions suffering from abject poverty struggling to feed themselves and their families. It is a completely unjust society ruled by the corrupt, for the corrupt. The worst part was that all the theft and money laundering that was being sucked out of this impoverished nation was being denied with a straight face by the corrupt rulers.
I remember in the early days of the PTI, PM IK held a demonstration in London outside the Hyde Park residences of Sharifs; yet they denied it with a blank face. Zardari refuted the charges of owning Surrey Palace till it was ready to be auctioned. He suddenly surfaced claiming to be the lord and master. He pleaded insanity when summoned by Swiss Courts, yet we rewarded him by making him the President of Pakistan.
Mention of this widespread network of the corrupt and the criminals was kept away from the public eye and scrutiny by controlling the media, who were a part and parcel of this criminal enterprise. Successive governments around the globe shielded or avoided this touchy subject. The global conscience was jolted by a group of journalists assembled under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists know as ICIJ. It involves credible folks from 91 reputable news organizations based in 100 countries. They started in 2014 and were able to pierce the corporate veil gaining access to papers leaked from Mossack Fonseca, a mammoth undertaking shielding the criminals.
In 2016, they revealed the Panama Papers. Nawaz Sharif and his offsprings were front and centre in this exposé. It was followed by Paradise Papers that involved tech giant Apple, associates of Trump, and Vladimir Putin. Pandora Papers is a much bigger deal than the previous ones. It identifies leaders and public officials in 100 countries including 100 billionaires involving 29,000 offshore accounts.
Pakistani elite was not left behind. 700 public figures have been named. The blood-sucking elites belong to politics, armed forces, and media as well connected businessmen. Four out of five named media personalities belong to Pakistan. The nexus of power, politics, judiciary, business and bureaucracy have usurped this nation’s resources. Their crimes go unchecked and unpunished. The laws have been manipulated to shield their misdeeds. The judicial system is without teeth and incapable of dispensing justice to punish these culprits.
Increasingly, PM IK is becoming an isolated voice in this sea of criminality. The compromised media and the “Consortium of the Corrupt” want him gone. His team is anaemic. There can be no delivery of the promised reforms through the imbeciles sitting in the Parliament. We are a rusted pail with a leaking bottom. Patchwork will not work. An overhaul of the system dispensing ruthless justice is the only option if we have to survive and turn around the nation.