From Pakistan to Park Lane via Panama

How Prime Minister Sharif’s Family Used Anonymous Companies

A version of this article was originally published on the Global Witness blog

Over a year on and the effect of the Panama Papers continues to reverberate.

Last week, the leaks claimed another political scalp: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office. The leaks showed how Sharif and his children were linked to prestigious Park Lane apartments in London through a complex web of anonymously owned British Virgin Island (BVI) companies.

The Sharif family have denied any wrongdoing. And currently, there is nothing at all illegal about owning UK properties through anonymous companies either in Pakistan or in the UK.

And that is precisely the problem.

Global Witness’ investigations have shown time and again how easy it is for the criminal and corrupt to launder money through luxury property, hiding the real owners behind anonymous companies, often registered in secrecy jurisdictions like the BVI and hidden behind “nominee” directors.

We urgently need to close this loophole. And until recently, we thought the UK was making progress.

But two years after David Cameron promised to bring transparency to the UK property market and just one year after the furor of the Panama Papers and the commitments made at the International Anti-Corruption Summit, we are no closer to stopping the corrupt from investing their ill-gotten gains in UK properties.

The decision rests with the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and her Cabinet. Are they happy to see criminal proceeds stashed in UK properties? Is this the kind of global Britain we’ll see after Brexit?

If not, they need to make good on their promise to clean up the UK property market and show the world that ‘there is no home for the corrupt in Britain’ by putting legislation before Parliament as soon as possible.

Naomi Hirst is a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness. She works to stop the corrupt from enjoying the proceeds of crime in desirable locations by campaigning to ensure that there is no safe haven for their ill-gotten gains in the London property market. Previously she worked for the UK’s National Crime Agency and before that, for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption.  She tweets @nfhirst.