The ‘Pandora Papers’ now riveting folks across the globe with its exposures of the shadowy world of sleaze, kickbacks, shell companies, tax avoidance and offshore accounts seems to have drawn its name from the Greek myth and the once famous Pentagon Papers and the more recent Panama Papers. The sequel to those revelations followed by [...]


The murky side of Pandora Papers


The ‘Pandora Papers’ now riveting folks across the globe with its exposures of the shadowy world of sleaze, kickbacks, shell companies, tax avoidance and offshore accounts seems to have drawn its name from the Greek myth and the once famous Pentagon Papers and the more recent Panama Papers. The sequel to those revelations followed by the likes of Wikileaks etc., have titillated the world, but not changed it.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposed the names of dozens of high flyers who have stashed their monies from these shell companies and trusts in secret bank accounts in safe havens around the world. From the British Virgin Islands to Panama, Belize, Cyprus, Switzerland, UAE and Singapore, it shows how people have amassed wealth avoiding taxes due to their countries. To its credit, the ICIJ has engaged in painstakingly digging away into some 11.9 million files — in old-fashioned investigative journalism now a fading aspect of modern-day journalism that is more prone to quick soundbytes and breaking news.

The furore over the Panama Papers, which the same ICIJ broke not long ago, has now blown over, and in all likelihood even the names listed in the Pandora Papers will go into the limbo of forgotten things very soon. That is the stark reality because of the nexus between politicians and the businessmen named.

Many countries, especially in the West, profit from allowing foreigners to park their money with them. These papers show the amount of properties purchased in the UK, Australia etc., with the dodgy cash. These countries are only concerned if the money is used for terrorist purposes against them, or for drug trafficking – again, only if it affects them. They care a damn about anything else and as long as these funds help to bolster their economies, they are fine with it, merely paying lip service to the concept of money laundering or the plunder of the wealth of the poorer nations.

In this part of the world, it is Dubai and Singapore that have the reputation of safe havens for the “investor”. They are the recipients of monies that are spirited away from developing countries in Asia and Africa. They will not hand over bank accounts even if the President of Sri Lanka asks for them, nor extradite a fugitive former Governor of a Central Bank wanted for insider dealing.

Sri Lanka is desperately trying to join this club of nations. It is offering a ‘No questions asked’ policy for prospective foreign investors and money laundering is limited to the statute books. Unfortunately there are no takers because of the perceived threats from internal political volatility in Sri Lanka especially from election platform rhetoric. Yet, investors must know that to the contrary, no Sri Lankan Government of recent vintage has shown any real interest in pursuing those engaged in these questionable transactions because it is one big socio-economic-politico incestuous relationship that prevails.

Presidential Commissions, Parliamentary committees and Auditor General’s reports have produced reams of paper merely gathering dust in various government offices. And no way will Sri Lanka be considered favourably by genuine foreign investors going by the World Bank classification of being 99th out of 160 countries in its ‘Ease of Doing Business Survey’. So, the Colombo Port City will only succeed if it opens its doors to the same bunch of like-minded “investors” who dabble in money laundering and spiriting money to offshore banks, or can strike a ‘deal’ with the powers-that-be.

The President referring the Pandora Papers to the Bribery and Corruption Commission (CIAOBC) and asking them to investigate the Sri Lankan involvement is tantamount to a bad joke. The biggest prosecution it has done in all its years is arguably against a school principal who accepted a bribe of a tea set. The only worthwhile prosecution and eventual conviction of a VVIP was when the Supreme Court found President Chandrika Kumaratunga guilty of corruption and abuse of power, and fined her in the Water’s Edge case. And that was on a Fundamental Rights action filed by two senior citizens without any Police or Bribery Commission investigation.

Anti-corruption investigators in Austria this week stormed into their country’s Chancellor’s office to investigate bribery allegations against him. Pigs will fly before such independence is given to any apolitical investigation in this country.

It is partly due to the flight of capital from the poorer countries that rich countries are rich, and the poor countries are poor — and the ordinary, honest business people in poor countries like Sri Lanka are waiting in a line to get the dollars needed to import foodstuffs for the people and the students going overseas to a university only get a portion of the money for their studies.

 Wisdom behind India’s advice to TNA

 The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leaders who came in delegation with broad smiles to meet the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary this week must surely have left the premises with long faces.

That is because they were told not to come to India all the time to pull their chestnuts out of the fire in their dealings with the Sri Lankan Government. They were asked to — something we have been saying all along: settle their differences within the shores of this island-nation.

One might have pity on them for they are caught in a headlock by the Diaspora, but then, are victims of their own making. They are being accused of running with the hare (Government in Colombo) and hunting with the hounds (Diaspora). Either way, they are fifth columnists when they run to India for succour as if it is their ‘Mother Country’ and to Geneva and other Western capitals where the Diaspora are their handlers.

Indian political dynamics have taken a sharp turn since its intervention — read interference — in Sri Lanka in the post-1977 era. India paid a price by losing so much goodwill with its southern neighbour for its adventurism. The TNA needs to read the signals from Delhi that broken bridges have to be rebuilt through its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. India’s only interest in having a foothold in North Sri Lanka is to counter China’s presence under its southern underbelly.

Having Colombo on its side would, therefore, be of paramount importance to India today because of this issue that was not there in the 1970s and 1980s — China’s emergence and expanding footprint in the geopolitical equation of South Asia.


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