Pandora ring

OP-ED: Tracing Pandora’s Finger of Contempt

What happens when the shady deals of high profile individuals are exposed?

Over 2,000 years ago, the Western world’s first authoritarian poet, Hesiod wrote about the even older myth of Pandora.

Driven by curiosity, this very first woman, the mother of all mankind, is said to have opened a container (often called a box) that unleashed an unstoppable flurry of work on the world. In his contemporary The Iliad, Homer describes how the afflicted “will be singled out for contempt. [and they] the face of the earth will ascend and descend, respected neither by gods nor by men.

This precise classic allusion was not on the minds of the heads of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – the Washington DC-based nonprofit network – when the findings of the world’s largest investigation were released. story earlier this week. like “Pandora Papers”.

The ICIJ only heard the popular notion of “a wave of turmoil and woe”, but there is no doubt that their revelations are a painful public embarrassment to many important people, including hundreds in South Asia.

As the organization’s editor-in-chief Fergus Shiel sums it up: “The largest tax haven file leak in history” revealed “the secret deals and hidden assets of more than 330 politicians and senior officials in more than 90 countries and territories ”.

About 11.9 million pages of confidential information from 14 offshore financial service providers, Shiel said: “Ambassadors, mayors and ministers, presidential advisers, generals and a central bank governor are in the files. . [along with] over 130 billionaires from 45 countries… other clients include bankers, major political donors, arms dealers, international criminals, pop stars, spy bosses and sports giants.

Some prominent names “include King Abdullah II of Jordan, the prime ministers of Côte d’Ivoire and the Czech Republic, the presidents of Ecuador, Kenya and Gabon, and the former presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay and Honduras ”.

This database of shenanigans includes more than 700 Pakistani citizens. The ICIJ notes that Prime Minister Imran Khan – who came to power “on the back of promises to stop Pakistan’s” corrupt “political elites” has not been named. But two members of his cabinet were, as well as “family members of several senior military officials. [and] donors to Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

Across the Indian border, ICIJ partner The Indian Express published on October 6 in an editorial that “Global elites continue to exploit loopholes in tax laws and lax jurisdiction in tax havens. to confine their assets ”. Of the 300 Indians taken this time around, he pointed out “that there is a distinction between tax evasion and tax evasion. [but] such structures are generally used to avoid paying taxes, laundering money obtained through illegal means and for sequestering assets.

As you might expect, there are plenty of the usual suspects among this thug’s shady operator gallery: the sister of blatant con artist Nirav Modi, extraordinarily incompetent potential tycoon Anil Ambani, and a series of what l Indian Express described as “high-cost loan defaulters.” declaring bankruptcy [but actually] hold billions through offshore entities overseas.

In this collection of outright crooks, it is both surprising and sad to see the name of Sachin Tendulkar. Admittedly, it is not clear that the legendary cricketer has committed any wrongdoing, and his lawyers have severely reprimanded Indian Express “for ensuring that neither Indian express nor does the ICIJ attribute or allege improper or illegal grounds to Mr. Tendulkar’s legitimate investments. “

But the court of public opinion cannot be vetted easily enough, as humans react viscerally to what they recognize as contradictions, no matter what the legal niceties may indicate. This is precisely what Homer was talking about all these centuries ago in The Iliad: “Even hateful as the gates of Hades is this man who hides one thing in his heart and says another.”

What is at stake here is perhaps best illustrated by the case of Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the 68-year-old pioneering billionaire entrepreneur and founder of biopharmaceutical giant Biocon Ltd, who is one of the most famous businesswomen. in the world. In its Oct. 6 report, Indian Express revealed that her husband, UK national John Shaw, owns a Mauritius-based company that “holds cash and investments of around $ 55 million, as well as real estate, including four properties in London, one in Barcelona and one in Barcelona. in an upscale New York residential building with a cumulative value of approximately $ 30 million.

Again, it is quite possible that this is all perfectly legal, and this is what Mazumdar-Shaw emphatically reiterated this week: “I would like to state that these stories grossly distorted the facts.

But the optics are undeniably ugly, especially given the context of Ms Mazumdar-Shaw’s tweet on April 8 this year (she later said it was a joke and deleted it) that “taxpayers should first get vaccinated “. They are only 3 crore. If they die, how will the country survive.

Vivek Menezes is a writer based in Goa, India.

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