Pandora Papers: Imperative for govt to go for a full-fledged probe to unearth names of those who are guilty

Pandora Papers are nearly 12 million files that disclose stashed wealth, tax evasion and money laundering by hundreds of the world’s richest people, including Indians

Representative Image
Representative Image

Sushil Kutty

The buzz right now is all about the ‘Pandora Papers’, leaked files of the hidden wealth of some of the world’s richest people, their money stashed in offshore accounts in tax havens.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), a group of global investigative journalists, worked to unearth the files. As many as 380 Indians are believed to figure in the Pandora Papers.

For the record, this is not the first ‘PP’. Earlier, there was ‘Paradise Papers’. And then, the ‘Panama Papers’. Both spilled out countless offshore accounts of the rich, famous, shady and the dangerous. ‘Pandora Papers’ is of the same genre. Big fat names are tumbling out of Pandora, of paragons of honesty and integrity, men of character.

Offshore accounts are of people who want to keep their money away from scrutiny. Of people who do not want to pay taxes. Of people who have shady dealings. About people who want to take intricate routes to hoard wealth because all or part of it is ill-gotten.

A whole special ecosystem is created to hide stashed wealth including setting up shell companies, giving hoax names and providing false addresses. Wire transfers and these days, perhaps, digital transfers. Suffice to say everything about offshore accounts is exotic, and modern.

The Pandora Papers are nearly 12 million files that disclose stashed wealth, tax evasion, even money laundering, by hundreds of thousands of the world’s stinking rich. Already many are scrambling for cover with claims of honest dealings, “so help me God!” and “I’ve always paid my taxes.”

It took some 700 journalists from 117 countries to read through tonnes of the unearthed files, only to be told now by those with the offshore accounts that they were not doing hanky-panky but are solid salt of the earth types. Surely, somebody in authority ought to take the broom and sweep them out from under the carpet.

Fact is, many governments have started the process to bring these accounts to account even though not all names have been disclosed, yet. The more than 140 media organisations involved in the Pandora operation are doing the disclosures to an agreed process.

Each country has its own set of Pandora Papers. “Multiple IPL teams, an ex-chief of military intelligence and a cricket superstar — these are a few whose financial secrets were exposed by Pandora Papers…,” The Indian Express, which is part of the ICIJ, said on the data linked to India.

There are 330 politicians from 90 countries whose files are up for disclosure. Among them are “six Indians”. The names of the six haven’t yet been disclosed, but they’ll be. That much is for sure. Already there’s intense speculation.

The Modi Government has got into the act. It cannot do otherwise. The Indian Express is sitting on the names of the “six Indian politicians”, maybe waiting for an opportune time, when the impact will be felt greatest.

And the disclosures will impact the politics of the day, including the elections slated for 2022, 2023 and 2024. The Centre has asked a multi-agency group to track the disclosures, followed by investigations and “appropriate action as per law”.

The government said it will engage with foreign jurisdictions for more information “to effectively address tax risks associated with such leaks.” The ICIJ said information culled from the leaked files will be released in structured phases.

Tax havens cost governments and people billions of dollars. There have been frequent demands to abolish tax havens, which help crime and corruption to thrive. Developing countries like India suffer the most, and are the hardest hit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is laughed at and ridiculed for not fulfilling his poll promise to bring back black money from foreign offshore banks and distribute it among the Indian people. Modi is notorious for making tall claims. But that is another story. The story now is that of the Pandora Papers and about the Indians figuring in them.

(IPA Service)

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