LAHORE - Lawyers yesterday said NAB and FIA can probe the owners and shareholders of offshore companies if it is established the money was sent abroad by illegal means.

The lawyers, however, expressed conflicting views on who would investigate the members of the prime minister’s family and other bigwigs accused of having set up offshore companies to conceal their assets and save taxes.

While some are of the opinion that at present there is no specific law in existence that can deal with the matter, the first of its nature in the country, others insist the NAB is competent to take the accused to task. Quoting the example of former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, the lawyers say that even a prime minister can be investigated over charges of corruption and convicted.

If a person holding public office makes some investment in such a company without making it public or invests without any legal way, it means he is concealing assets and committing corruption, they say. They further state by doing so he violates NAB and anti-corruption laws as well as many others, and can be probed by NAB and FIA.

Talking to The Nation, senior lawyer and constitutional expert Abid Hassan Manto said there is no specific law to investigate offshore companies’ matter. He said capitalists always make such laws which provide protection to them. “Who will investigate the matter of Panama leaks scandal when the investigation system itself is in the control of rulers who have been declared as accused?” questioned Manto, adding capitalists always make such laws as provide protection to them against their wrongdoings and ill businesses. Minto opined if the money has been transferred from Pakistan, then it can be investigated. “Tax laws and many other laws will apply if the money was transferred from Pakistan,” he said.

Abid Hassan Minto said “Panama leaks are not just about Pakistani rulers; they are about many other leaders across the world, but just after a few days one can see there is no action against them.”

Supreme Court Bar Association President Barrister Ali Zafar said the matter of Panama leaks can be investigated on two grounds; first whether the money investigated in offshore companies was transferred from Pakistan or not; the other ground is who will conduct investigation, NAB or FIA. “NAB and FIA both can investigate it if the public office holders are involved in the scandal,” said Zafar. He further stated politicians are also bound to show their assets to the Election Commission of Pakistan and if they conceal their assets, they can lose their eligibility to hold any public office for violating laws.

“Our laws do not cover offshore companies’ businesses directly. NAB and FIA can initiate an inquiry if the money invested in these companies was transferred from the country through some illegal way,” he opined.

He argued an offshore company itself is not illegitimate, but the money invested in it may be white or black. He further contended, “If someone holding a public office is making investment in an offshore company and declares it openly, then it cannot be said that the money invested was illegal, but if he conceals his assets, it means he is guilty and must be investigated.”

Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) President Rana Zia Abdur Rehman said the allegations of corruption and investment in offshore companies against the prime minister and other politicians are very terrible. He said public money cannot be taken out of the country beyond a certain limit which, he said, is $ 10,000. He was of the opinion that NAB has jurisdiction to investigate the matter. He held it is a serious thing that those holding public offices make investment in foreign countries secretly, but seek investment in their own country from foreign investors.

Advocate Azhar Siddique said though there is no specific law to deal with the matter of offshore companies, NAB has jurisdiction to investigate it. “There should be a conclusive inquiry against Sharif family and other politicians because they have admitted that they have established offshore companies,” said Azhar.

Another lawyer, Mushtaq Ahmad Mohal, said investigation and legal proceedings can be held against the prime minister and other politicians over Panama leaks and there is no legal bar in it. He said after Panama leaks, the state departments are legally bound to conduct investigation. “If PM Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani can be convicted, why not any other”, said Mohal.

Tax expert and former president LHCBA Shafqat Mehmood Chohan said those investing in offshore companies can be probed under criminal justice system and other relevant laws of the country.

Media reports claimed several politicians, businessmen and other influential figures are owners or shareholders in offshore companies incorporated through Mossack Fonseca law firm.

In addition to the companies owned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children, the leaks also alleged former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, her nephew Hassan Ali Jaffery and former interior minister Rehman Malik were the owners of Petrofine FZC, a company that was implicated in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal unearthed by a UN committee in 2005.