Pakistan’s ‘Quaker Oats Man’

 

Reminiscing about my childhood, the image of the Quaker Oats tin box is indelibly etched in my mind. Featuring the “Quaker Man” logo, the picture of the white haired distinguished looking man, in a swish black coat, white cravat and a black hat, brimming with good health conveyed good breeding.  The company states, “The ‘Quaker man’ does not represent an actual person. His image is that of a man dressed in the Quaker garb, chosen because the Quaker faith projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity and strength.” (Website for Quaker Oats Company FAQ January 22, 2009)

For heaven’s sake guys, when a cereal company deems it important to link the product with good ethics and good values linking up with purity and goodness of product- should not leaders of a nation in reality have honesty, integrity, purity and strength? (As in strength of character) If yes, what on earth is Panama Leaks about (Being bandied around crudely as Pajama Leaks).

The 11.5 million documents obtained originally by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung have undergone investigation that has been led by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).  It details 214,000 offshore entities, and as per a report, “Offshore accounts aren’t illegal but are often used as tax havens for money laundering and corruption. Many of these entities were reportedly found to be shell companies established in order to help several of the law firm’s clients, through more than 500 top banks worldwide, allegedly hide income and transactions worth billions of dollars….”

Pakistan’s sitting Prime Minister’s three off springs; Hasan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and Mariam Nawaz are listed, as are relatives of Chief Minister Punjab’s relatives, also some senior judges, politicians and media moguls have been named in the list.

The spotlight has fallen on the Prime Minister who was forced to address the nation on TV. Worse followed with the latest bombshell by a local newspaper quoting WB website claiming,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the owner of two secret offshore companies. It disclosed that Hussain Nawaz, son of Nawaz Sharif  transferred 1.9 million dollars to his father. According to the website Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif  was the owner of two off shore companies Shamrock and Chendron Jersy. There were some accounts associated with 12 off shore companies.” (April 10, 2016)

Panama Leaks is claiming skulls. Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Israel’s Prime Minister who” handed over his office to Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, the agriculture and fisheries minister for “unspecified time” following revelations that Gunnlaugsson once owned – and his wife still owns – an offshore investment company with multimillion-pound claims on Iceland’s failed banks,” (The Guardian, April 5, 2016)  People have taken to streets demanding Cameron’s resignation.

The papers are not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing. According to The Guardian, using offshore structures is legal. “There are many legitimate reasons for doing so. Business people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine typically put their assets offshore to defend them from `raids’ by criminals, and to get around hard currency restrictions.” (The Dawn, April 4, 2016)

Can the paper trail be traced to ascertain the core question of where the money is flowing from? It certainly brings the morality of the transaction (s) in question.  Business Insider writes, “While anonymous company structures hidden in offshore holdings are not illegal, the leaks reveal the extent to which many high-level political figures have relied on shell companies to conceal their wealth, launder money, or evade taxes. A memorandum from a Mossack Fonseca partner contained in the leak reads, “Ninety-five per cent of our work coincidentally consists in selling vehicles to avoid taxes,” according to The Guardian.” (April 3, 2016)

Meetu Jain writing for the Outlook India magazine quotes ex JNU Professor and black money expert Arun Kumar, “It might not be illegal but what about the morality? If it were a straightforward deal, why would businessmen employ the services of a company such as MF? And this is besides the fact that a poor country is losing out on taxes if companies are set up in jurisdictions such as these tax havens,” he adds. (April 8, 2016) A global tax avoidance problem requires a coordinated response, and the papers point to the urgent need for much more transparency in the movement of global finance capital as stated by The Hindu April 7, 2016.

Pakistan’s opposition parties have categorically criticized Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his decision to form a judicial commission to probe his family in ‘Panama Papers’ revelations. “Everyone wants something done vis a vis black money accounts in Panama. Nawaz Sharif took the initiative by announcing a judicial commission to probe the scandal and his family to defuse the current onslaughts. There is a consensus that this judicial commission is hogwash. Indeed, it will not have an access to secret documents running into millions. Therefore, the JC will be neither here nor there. However, there would be lot of Ho ha. I think people in transparency should demand of Nawaz Sharif, his family members especially to sue the company of lawyers that leaked the paper to ask them to provide evidence in a court of law in Panama. If that is not possible then they should call upon ICJ to conduct investigation in the matter and try those involved if the accusation of money laundering is false. Pakistan government and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should not hesitate to seek redress in international legal forums to clear his name. As far as the Judicial Commission in Pakistan is concerned, it would not do anything nor is considered credible. It will launder the PM and his family,” says Wajid Shamsul Hasan, former High Commissioner in UK for Pakistan.

What is needed to bring truth to light is not a judicial commission without any access to paper trail but a forensic audit writes a friend. However, will such a team have access to all documentation? Without this, any effort to quash the Panama Leaks story will fail.

Sarcastic quips, cartoons flash like lightening across the net on the Pajamas….oops the Panama Files. I share only one forwarded to me:

“Nawaz Sharif has appointed Judicial commission to probe and inform Nawaz Sharif if Nawaz Sharif has stolen money without telling Nawaz Sharif so that Nawaz Sharif can decide whether Nawaz Sharif did anything wrong against Nawaz Sharif or not …”

Whither Pakistan’s Quaker Oats Man?

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

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