You’re looking at Nawaz Sharif, but do you pay your taxes?

Published: April 8, 2016
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Names of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's three children figure in Mossack Fonseca leaks, dubbed as Panama Papers PHOTO: REUTERS

It is no secret that Panama, with its strictest financial secrecy rules on the planet, has been a long-time friend to crooks, dictators, corporations and the ridiculously rich.

Turned into a tax and money-laundering haven in the 70s with the help of American banks, Panama’s financial laws remain extremely lax and welcoming. As a Panamanian lawyer put it in his 2014 VICE News interview,

“When it comes to money laundering, we offer full service: rinse, wash, and dry. You can go to any law firm in the city, from the smallest to the biggest, and open up a shell company with no questions asked.”

To be fair, not all corporations and rich folk head to idyllic sunny islands for shady activities. Offshore banking in places like the Cayman Islands and Panama is a good draw not only because they offer ways to minimise an entities’ taxable income but also because they boast quality legislation, economic stability and a lack of intrusive regulation.

But, the ability of the rich to set up insanely complicated legal loopholes so that they can get even richer rightfully hits a nerve for the majority of us not part of the global elite.

That’s why recent disclosures, dubbed by the media as the Panama Papers, clearly linking our prime minister and his family to offshore companies is so infuriating. That our PM is one of 12 world leaders named in the Panama Papers tax haven leak is not surprising. After all, the Sharif family has found itself in the crossfire of tax evasion allegations plenty of times before.

The Panama Papers only confirm what pretty much every Pakistani has long known: the prime minister and his family are not exactly clean.

On the face of it, being linked to an offshore account or company does not immediately signal illegality. What the average Pakistani is pissed off about is the dubious, unethical way in which Pakistan’s most prominent family chooses to conduct its affairs.

Our PM is allegedly a billionaire – twice over. And, if the Panama Papers are to be believed, the PM and his family own some of the most expensive real estate on this planet which include homes right across London’s Hyde Park. But Nawaz Sharif and his families’ questionable and, to put it politely, fairly unethical tactics of dodging taxes are not limited to the Sharif clan.

We are a dirt-poor country and are likely to remain so in the reader’s current lifetime because of our 200 million citizens only 0.5 % choose to pay income tax. In fact, the cost of running a local tax office in Pakistan is more expensive than the tax that we wind up collecting.

The problem of shady tax avoidance ploys runs in the veins of more than just one elite Pakistani family. Far too many affluent Pakistanis dodge taxes by colluding or bribing tax officials, conjuring up legal loopholes, or turning to offshore destinations. Even our country’s parliament is run over with lawmakers – custodians of our state – who not only skip tax-payments, they don’t possess tax numbers required to file their income taxes.

We are going to need a lot more than revelatory Panama Papers to fight against the home-grown crooks defrauding our tax collecting system. The leak will, without a doubt, deal a massive blow to the global offshore banking industry. But the Panama Papers only name a handful of Pakistanis leaving out the millions complicit in domestic tax evasion.

The problem is not on some tropical island a thousand miles away. It’s down the street from you and I, and before we attempt to navigate the treacherous waters of international tax avoidance schemes, we need to find a way to stop our own economic self-interests from sinking.

Do you file your taxes?

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Maria Kari

Maria Kari

The author is a lawyer and freelance journalist. She tweets as @mariakari1414 (twitter.com/mariakari1414)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sami

    Totally agreed. Panama papers showed us what we already knew. Ruling Elite laundering money, evading taxes. But this strong reaction from different circles and then PM forming an inquiry committee is a positive step. For me the least this could do is send a message to Elite class that if an Inquiry can be held against sitting Prime Minister then no one is Scot free no more.Recommend

  • Read Below

    Nawaz paid Rs 4.5 million tax last fiscal year.Recommend

  • Frank

    And in the 90s he was paying virtually no tax in Pakistan while buying some of the most expensive property on earth in Central London. Does not compute, does it?Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Nawaz has been super rich since the 40s. They were billionaires before they entered politics.

    Zia wanted rich punjabi families to enter politics to put up a wall against the rise of the PPP, hence he pushed nawaz to the top.Recommend

  • Tasadiq

    Good article Miss Kari.
    Pakistanis who are defrauding Pakistan of Tax Revenues are robbing Pakistan of its future. They are the “Enemy Within” because Pakistan will always remain a poor country if it allows people to loot its wealth through Tax evasion and other forms of corruptions.
    This is not the Pakistan our forefathers gave many sacrifices to create.Recommend

  • sterry

    It computes because we all know Nawaz Sharif was a billionaire businessman even before he entered politics. No one knows whether this money is from earlier business or where so its just speculation now. What surprises me is that 10 million for overseas kids running businesses is not a lot and didn’t make overseas headlines like the billions owned by Chinese Premier’s family. A lot of major US corporations and individuals with high net worth also pay little tax because of legal loopholes. They should be stopped all over the world. Starbucks made 1 billion in UK and didn’t pay a penny in tax recently until people realized these legal loop holes are hurting the country. UK PM Cameron has been trying to explain why he made money from it.Recommend

  • robin mitha

    I think we need to wake up and smell the coffee as the saying goes…Pakistanis dont like invome tax…..close down the income tax department …dont ask for wealth filings…..just add a hefty amount of consumption taxes that will knock on high income households…like progressive taxes on vehicles over 800cc…..on houses over 100 sq yds….on foreign air travel…on other luxury goods….the govt can eadily collect 4 trillion in taxes this way and make everyone honestRecommend

  • Beat the heat

    Well, I would defer it to Nawaz to answer this but in 90s besides salaried people hardly Any business paid taxes fairly and squarely. Our ethics are firm so long as we talk about others but when it comes to us we belong to the majority people who don’t pay taxes.Recommend

  • SHAH S

    The difference is that I dont steal and cheat and do not avoid or get waiver for paying taxes.. I do pay my taxes… If I would have been a cheat, thief, robber, dacoit, liar, steal peoples money and have children who also do the same, I would have also been the Prime Minister or the President of Pakistan. Being honest loyal patriotic and sincere good citizen of Pakistan means, stay poor and be at the mercy of these crooks; Time is coming to get rid of these scorpions and snakes;Recommend

  • Hasan Shafi Mian

    hahaha… everyone here will say YES, i pay taxes… hats off to those who said NO.Recommend

  • DR Musadik Malik

    I condemn the Panama Papers investigation as a Western conspiracy and its censors have restricted access to coverage of the leaked documents, which show offshore dealings by the family of Prime Minister Of Pakistan. Sadly, the Western media has taken control of the interpretation each time there has been such a document dump, and Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it. In brief, Panama Papers leak is conspiracy against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. Particularly, against the great emerging global leader; Maryam Nawaz. She has obtained an MA and PhD with distinction in Political Science from Cambridge University. She has published extensively on poverty, global economic recession, and economic reforms in under developed countries. During my stay as Adviser to Prime Minister, I have found that Maryam Nawaz is a living institution of Governance. During military regime she gave up freedom and a life with her family in Saudi Arabia to protest military rule in Pakistan.

    Panama Papers/leaks is blatant conspiracy of WEST and allies in Pakistan against the 200 million people of Pakistan to deprive them from the honest leadership of Maryam Nawaz.

    Very few knows that Maryamism encompasses the leadership style, political conviction, economic and social policy of Prime Minister of Pakistan.

    I have identified three types of leadership that exemplify Maryam’s abilities as a leader: trait, transactional, and transformational. Early on in her political career she exemplified the trait leadership style because she has the notion that some were inherently born with leadership traits like her father is. His Excellency, Honorable Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif fostered her early interest in politics. He saw her as carrying on his tradition. In her early years of leadership, Maryam manifested all of the trait theory leadership characteristics that she saw in her father. She is intelligent being a PhD Scholar of Cambridge University. She is self-confident, determined, lead with integrity and is sociable. While most people would categorize Maryam as a transformational leader, an evaluation of her cognitive style of information processing tells a different story.

    I have found that a transactional leader awards for good behavior, which in A transactional leader awards for good behavior, which in Maryam case would be being favorable to those that agreed with her, and punishing disagreement or those that opposed her position case would be being favorable to those that agreed with her, and punishing disagreement or those that opposed her position ’s decisions at Prime Minister House are always taken with reference to a few deeply, even passionately, held personal convictions and beliefs against which proposal or individuals are measured: if found wanting, the proposal or individual is discarded without further ado.

    A transactional leader awards for good behavior, which in A transactional leader awards for good behavior, which in Maryam case would be being favorable to those that agreed with her, and punishing disagreement or those that opposed her position case would be being favorable to those that agreed with her, and punishing disagreement or those that opposed her position. While her leadership style in foreign and domestic policy is predominately transactional, Maryam is without a doubt a transformational leader and I saw her closely and very confident to say, “Transformational leaders like Maryam set examples to be emulated by their followers.

    Despite the odds against her, Maryam is committed to make changes in Pakistan economy that would last a life time.

    It is our national duty to kill and condemn all such Western conspiracy against Prime Minister and inspirational leadership of Maryam.

    Dr. Musadik Malik

    Minister of state & Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of PakistanRecommend

  • Ajamal

    It is not a valid argument that every one steals. Secondly, prime minister and his family must set highest standards of morality.Recommend

  • Ajamal

    The issue is not about taxes. It is about SOURCE of funds.Recommend

  • Ajamal

    In Pakistan, forming an inquiry is “hushing up” the matter.Recommend

  • Frank

    Nawaz Sharif’s father was quite a talented businessman who built up a small business, but they were comfortable rather than wealthy. The Sharif family earned its first 50 million when they dutifully served their mentor the martial law dictator, Zia ul Haq, in Punjab. They became billionaires through massive corruption when they entered national politics in the 1990s.Recommend

  • Lotus

    @Dr Musadik Malik,with your comments Pakistan does not need any Enemies.Hope you also know the circumstances of marriage of your ’emerging global leader’Maryam with Capt Safdar.Some things are better left unsaid,so keep it that way.Hope your comments bear some useful fruits by the Punjab Govt to you.Recommend