Panama Papers probe to bring no result, claims Senate panel

Panama Papers probe to bring no result, claims Senate panel

ISLAMABAD: Despite the assurances given by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to assist the inquiry commission in the probe into the Panama Leaks, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance on Wednesday concluded that it would be difficult to prove wrongdoings in the presence of the Protection of Economic Reforms Act 1992 and the absence of required laws to seek official records from foreign countries known as tax havens.

When the SBP, SECP and one legal expert presented their opinions before the committee members, all of them, including Chairman Senator Saleem Mandviwala, were unanimous that nothing substantial would come out of the probe into the Panama Leaks in the wake of some laws providing protection to those remitting their money outside Pakistan and in the absence of mutual legal assistance treaties with states known as tax havens around the globe.

The Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenues held its meeting under the chairmanship of Senator Saleem Mandviwala here at the Parliament House in which the SECP member told the committee that there were 192 companies in Pakistan that had been making investments in offshore companies. “We have found that many companies are investing in offshore companies and it is a routine matter,” the SECP member said.

One legal expert Mr Mehmood, who was invited on special invitation, said that Pakistan should become a signatory to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) convention having 60 members, including some known as tax havens such as Switzerland. These would start sharing information about account holders in 2017 and beyond. India, he said, also became a signatory to the OECD and would be able to draw details of bank account holders from September 2017. Nothing much could be done at the present stage as Islamabad had signed the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) treaties only with five countries, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, China and Turkey.

SBP Deputy Governor Saeed Ahmed Khan told the committee that the central bank did not have the capacity to probe the Panama Leaks but they would be willing to assist the inquiry commission in itsprobe in whatever capacity they could.

The SBP official said that the bank could grant permission for up to $5 million remittance outside Pakistan while permission of over $5 million was granted by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC).

Meanwhile, the treasury members of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance successfully managed to avoid an apparent defeat by deferring till next two weeks voting on the issue of Heavy Electrical Complex (HEC) in which serious allegations of wrongdoings in the failed privatisation attempt were leveled.

Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani had referred the sub-committee report on failed attempt to privatise the HEC back to the committee to complete the required rules and procedures in which the Privatisation Commission was held responsible for the fiasco as the successful bidder’s cheque got dishonoured for the first time in the privatisation history of the country.

Senator Ayesha Raza, belonging to the treasury benches, had raised the issue before the Senate chairman that she was part of the sub-committee led by Senator Kamil Ali Agha whereby she gave a dissenting note for holding the PC responsible for the failed privatisation attempt of the HEC.

At one stage of the proceedings, Chairman of the Committee Senator Saleem Mandviwalla asked members to reject or accept the report of the sub-committee led by Senator Kamil Ali Agha on the deal into the failed privatisation of HEC and started counting votes of each member. But Senator Mohsin Leghari, although an independent senator but supporter of the government on the HEC issue, had gone out of the committee room so the voting got delayed.

The treasury members who could face defeat, keeping in view numbers on the basis of political divide, made all-out efforts to convince the chairman to allow the sub-committee for re-visiting its findings by reviewing the whole text and brought changes into harsh language.

Senator Mohsin Aziz, belonging to the PTI, said that he would not support to change the text of the sub-committee report but if the language was harsh, it could be revisited. The chairman of the committee finally decided to defer the decision and stated that the committee would take up this issue on May 10, 2016 either to send back the report to the House with changes or without changes.

However, the Privatisation Commission Secretary Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera strongly defended the Privatisation Commission and stated that it would be unfair to keep them unheard as the media trial also hurt them.

— Originally published in The News