One head has rolled and many more are spinning as those in the limelight try to deal with the implications of the Panama leaks. An Alice in Wonderland world has opened before us. Every day we learn more about the crafty world of lawyers and accountants, used by the ultra-rich who siphon out their money – legit or otherwise- into shell companies hidden away from the tax authorities of the world. They have no fealty to the country of their birth and neither show loyalty to the country where they make their money. We mere mortals are finding out about the complexities of this world thanks to the arduous and laudatory work being done by the Munich Newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung working with the International Consortium of Investigative journalists; who in the short to medium term may have done more for the cause of democracy and accountability of leaders than anyone else. While we ‘epsilons’ are chained to our desks trying to make a decent living and paying the taxes that sustain the prosperity and stability the rich need to prosper; defense of countries through armies and help the poor and needy through social benefits.

Over 200 people from Pakistan have been named as having offshore companies this includes media organisations, businessmen, a sitting and a retired judge and most controversially politicians and those related to them. In the case of the latter, the three children of the sitting prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, relatives of the sitting chief minister’s two wives, ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto name has cropped up as well as that of her nephew, Hasan Ali Jaffery as well as the former interior minister, Rehman Malik. Usman Saifullah, Senator for the PPP, whose family has come up as having over 34 offshore companies registered, is currently a serving member on the Tax reform commission and of course these companies may all be legit but the thought that comes to mind is that it’s like asking the cat to take care of the canary!

Pakistan is a poor country its GDP in 2015 was $270bn, it has a foreign debt over $62bn, and it has a perennial problem collecting taxes. Currently, its tax to GDP ratio stands at 7.5 percent, amongst the lowest in the world. In order to increase taxes collected, it has moved disproportionately towards a system of indirect taxes that hits the poor where it hurts them hardest; food, drink and transport to work. Pakistan has received massive amounts of aid in the past 10 years from developed countries; USAID alone gave close to $2billion in the last 3 years. During the same period due to the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, in the USA, states cut back on social services they provided to the poor, workers saw pay declines and overall the economy until recently stayed in recession mode.

For a poor country like Pakistan where the world comes to give it aid, two important questions arise from the Panama leaks; what is the original source of this money and was tax been paid on it before it left the country to invest in bigger and better things. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, gave a recorded speech to the nation where he came on the offensive and claimed the family was being politically maligned and announced that he would set up a judicial commission – seen as the graveyard of enquiries- to clear the family’s reputation. He also mentioned during the same interview that in 1972, his father’s business was nationalised and they as a family lost everything. Nationalisation effectively ended by 1977-78, so the logical question is then how did the family make enough money, to set up large offshore companies by 1993 and 1994 and buy multi-million flats in London. It should be pointed out that Nawaz Sharif was the finance minister of Pakistan’s largest province Punjab from 1981-85, was Punjab’s chief minister between 1985-90 and then prime minister of Pakistan between 1990-93.

Estimates of amount lost to the Pakistani Exchequer because of corruption vary between $50billion to $75 billion lost annually. The last one year has had people glued to their TV screen as the beautiful model Ayyan Ali was caught with $500,000 cash in her bag as she was taking a flight to Dubai, she purportedly made around 42 trips abroad the past few years. She is believed to be one of many carriers of cash. The former State bank Governor Anwar Yasin, stirred up a hornets nest when he told a parliamentary committee that up to $25m daily is taken out of Pakistan in briefcases.

On the question of how much tax has been paid on this wealth it is interesting that some of these individuals pay negligible amount of tax- the prime minister himself when in the opposition was scandalised because he only paid $50 in personal income tax. In addition, some of the 200 names that have offshore companies do not even appear in the published lists of FBR of top taxpayers of Pakistan. Furthermore, a lot have made their wealth in sectors where they for years have lobbied governments for protection and subsidies to run businesses in that sector. In the case of politicians, many registered companies have been set up during a period in which they have also been in power. Rampant rumours have been firing up Islamabad for years now about the interest that respective Pakistani governments have shown in doing business with Turkey and China; terms such as laxity with regard to bribery and money laundering regulations have been bantered around. Furthermore, speculation has abounded that some of the companies that appear in the guise of Chinese or Turkish companies are actually front companies in offshore locations with actual ownership being local and political.

It is thought-provoking for all of is that Mossack Fonseca, is one law firm in one country, there are probably many more names out there and some of these 200 people will no doubt be on many other lists as well. The leaks of the panama papers will certainly strengthen democracy if some accountability is shown. But if it leaves many more unanswered questions then at some point people will retaliate and who knows what form it will take and ‘off with their heads’ may be a rallying call.