The ‘Pandora Papers’ released by the ICIJ has opened a new Pandora’s Box on secret deals and hidden assets of some of the world’s richest and powerful people. The cache of 11.9 million files has revealed how the elite including politicians, judges, military officials, and even criminals created offshore companies in tax havens.
More than 35 current and former world leaders are featured in the leaks as well as celebrities and businessmen. Many used shell companies with no physical presence or workers to hold luxury properties as well as hidden bank accounts. More than 700 journalists from 117 countries worked for two years to publish the leaks and expose their clandestine offshore assets.
There have been little surprises, though. According to a 2020 study by the OECD, at least $11.3 trillion is held ‘offshore’. It is unclear how much of it is linked to tax evasion or from legitimate sources due to the complex and secretive system. There is, however, no corner of the world from the Middle East, India, Russia, Europe and even Pakistan unscathed by the system as funds from cash-starved governments are funnelled abroad.
The Pandora papers have revealed the inner workings of a shadow financial world, providing a rare glimpse into the working of a global offshore economy that allows some of the world’s richest people to hide their wealth and in case pay little or no taxes, costing governments billions in revenue. Owning offshore companies may not be illegal but is considered unethical as they are usually for ulterior motives such as avoiding taxes.
More than 700 Pakistanis including politicians, businessmen and former military officers have also been named in the leaks. This includes some key members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle and those linked to opposition figures who moved millions to offshore companies. The prime minister, who campaigned against corruption and money laundering, has vowed to probe all those named in the leaks.
It is the responsibility of the international community to tackle this global issue. It is unfortunate that this large-scale plunder is not being investigated neither are countries interested in repatriating the money. This is the root cause of poverty and inequality as money is diverted from developing countries. This must be tackled immediately before it leads to further economic and social instability.