The Release of the Pandora Papers Has Put Some of Asia’s Elite in the Spotlight

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Thousands of people throughout the world have been linked to offshore corporations or trusts in the latest leak of confidential financial information dubbed the Pandora Papers, including dozens of powerful Asians, including governing party politicians.

Even when compared to 2016’s Panama Papers and more than double the amount of 2017’s Paradise Papers, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) data dump is the network’s largest to date.

Singapore, Switzerland, Panama, the United Arab Emirates, the British Virgin Islands, and Vietnam are among the 14 offshore service providers whose documents make up the Pandora Papers data dump. According to the ICIJ, they have clients from over 200 nations and territories.

In the 12 million files that make up the Pandora Papers, there are about a dozen famous Malaysians identified, including at least four active lawmakers.

Finance Minister Zafrul Aziz claimed on Monday (October 4) that he was seeking legal counsel after asserting on Malaysiakini that “Capital Investment (Labuan) Limited is still affiliated with me rather than being part of the Kenanga Group.”

In a statement, Tengku Zafrul said, “By June 2010, I had acquired the post of chief executive officer at Maybank Investment Bank Bhd and had, as a result, taken steps to renounce my executive and directorship roles in the Kenanga Group.”

According to Malaysiakini, Zahid Hamidi, the president of the ruling Umno party, was named as a director in a British Virgin Islands (BVI) firm called Breedon Limited. Hamidi is now facing hundreds of graft accusations. When the former deputy premier won a tight race for the party’s youth wing leadership in 1996, the firm was formed.

Former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, who also led the powerful Council of Eminent Persons when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned to power between 2018 and 2020, and lawmaker William Leong, a member of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, have insisted that their dealings in offshore firms and accounts under their control are entirely legal.

Datuk Seri Anwar has submitted an emergency motion in Parliament to have the Pandora Papers considered.

The Pandora Papers also mention two prominent Indonesian cabinet officials and a number of businesses. Airlangga Hartarto, the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, told news magazine Tempo that he was unaware of the suspected shell firms he had set up in the British Virgin Islands.

From 2007 until 2010, he worked for Petrocapital SA, a Panamanian business, according to a spokesman for Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan. Mr Luhut, who was not in government at the time, left the company owing to “obstacles relating to geographical conditions, culture, and investment assurance” and chose to “concentrate on business in Indonesia.”

Mr Dennis Uy, the country’s sixth wealthiest man, is listed in the papers as the beneficial owner of BVI firm China Shipbuilding and Exports Corp., one of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s top campaign supporters. Solart Holdings Limited, a BVI business that appears to have been in operation since 2007, was controlled by Transport Minister Arthur Tugade and his children.

Mr Tugade has never revealed his offshore assets in the yearly disclosure document required of civil officials, according to former finance minister Milwida Guevara of the online news site Rappler.

Andy Bautista, the former head of the Philippine Elections Commission, stated that his family bought offshore firm Baumann Enterprises on the recommendation of the Bank of Singapore as “standard private banking procedure to aid our family’s intended goal of pooling our assets together.”

While using shell corporations or holding assets offshore is not unlawful, these structures aid in concealing true owners and control of such money. Many of those who have been in the spotlight have been accused of everything from corruption to money laundering and tax evasion. Following the publication of the Panama Papers in 2016, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was deposed.

The Pandora Papers contain the identities of significant officials of Pakistan’s present administration, donors to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, and family members of the country’s influential military generals.

“My government will investigate all our countrymen identified in the Pandora Papers and if any crime is found, we will take proper punishment,” said Mr Khan, who ran on an anti-graft campaign.

A sports hero, a disgraced businessman, politicians, and former government officials are among the 300 persons named in India.

The Indian Express, a local ICIJ partner, has so far identified only a half-dozen names, including cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, whose BVI business was liquidated just three months after the Panama Papers were exposed in 2016.

Mr Anil Ambani, the brother of India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, who filed for bankruptcy in the United Kingdom in 2020, held at least 18 offshore firms in Jersey, the British Virgin Islands, and Cyprus that had borrowed and invested US$1.3 billion (S$1.8 billion).

More than 1,000 organizations and individuals are mentioned in Japan, including some of the largest names in business, such as Takao Yasuda, creator of the Don Quijote discount store chain, and Masayoshi Son, chairman of SoftBank Group. Both companies have denied any wrongdoing.

So far, only mainland Chinese politician Feng Qiya has been named. Ms Feng founded the offshore corporation Linkhigh Trading in 2016, according to the ICIJ. It was registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission and had $2 million in assets, but it is now dormant.

Tung Chee Hwa, a billionaire, and Leung Chun Ying, a former Hong Kong leader, were also named in the probe. While serving as the territory’s chief executive, Mr Leung was listed as the proprietor of two BVI corporations.

There were no Singaporean names in the data leak.

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