Pandora Papers: Iqbal Mirchi family expands offshore empire, with links to ex-Pak General

Pandora Papers: Iqbal Mirchi was a trusted aide of underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim and was wanted by the Mumbai Police and the Enforcement Directorate. He was arrested by Scotland Yard in 1994 and died of a heart attack in London in 2013.

Despite a sweeping enforcement crackdown including attachment of properties worth hundreds of crores in India and Dubai, members of the Iqbal Mirchi family have been one step ahead of authorities with fresh offshore deals that link a retired Pakistan Army general as well, an investigation of data contained in the Pandora Papers shows.

Iqbal Mirchi was a trusted aide of underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim and was wanted by the Mumbai Police and the Enforcement Directorate. He was arrested by Scotland Yard in 1994 and died of a heart attack in London in 2013.

Since then, members of his family have set up a slew of offshore assets to manage their global property empire and in 2016, The Indian Express investigation of the Panama Papers revealed 17 such companies.

Five years later, the Pandora Papers add another crucial layer to the family’s offshore money trails: investments and transfers done by Iqbal Mirchi’s first wife Hajra Iqbal Memon and their two sons Junaid Memon and Asif Iqbal Memon.

Significantly, after the Panama Papers expose, the Mirchi family transferred several offshore companies from Mossack Fonseca to the Trident Trust of British Virgin Islands, just in time before the Panamanian law firm shut shop in March 2018. This was done as part of what is referred to in Trident Trust emails as the “MossFon” project.

The latest revelations deals with Akbar Asif, the brother of Iqbal Mirchi’s second wife, Heena Kauser, whose offshore dealings were also covered by The Indian Express in the 2016 Panama Papers.

Akbar Asif is the son of renown film director K asif (of Mughal-e-Azam fame). It is known that in 2004, he met then President Pervez Musharaff to request for the ban on Indian films to be lifted. Asked about this meeting, Gen Shah, in his response to ICIJ, has stated that the meeting lasted only 2-4 minutes and that brief encounter was the only time he himself met Akbar Asif.

Secret records of Trident Trust BVI reveal that in 2007, Akbar Asif, the wife and son of Lt Gen Shafaat Ullah Shah, now a retired three-star General of the Pakistani Army, became shareholders in one of Asif’s companies, Talah Limited.

Shah served as Military Secretary to former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf and was Pakistan’s Ambassador to Jordan as well.

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Shah was a two-star serving General when Talah Ltd was transferred in the name of his wife, Fariah Shah. Their son, Raza Ullah Shah, also became a Talah shareholder when he turned 18 in 2010.

In the company incorporation form of Trident Trust, Raza Ulla Shah’s “occupation’’ is shown as Director of Talah Ltd and source of funds is listed as shareholder funds from past earnings for an 18-year-old.

The ownership of another company, Mustique Investments Limited, was also transferred to Talah Ltd around the same time. Records reveal that Mustique Investments took over shareholdings of several of Akbar Asif’s offshore companies detailed in the Trident Trust data shortly after they were incorporated.

The Register of Directors of Talah Limited shows that Mirchi’s brother-in-law Akbar Asif and his wife, Kavita Charles Singh, became its Directors in 2002; with Fariah Shah joining in 2007 and her son, Raza Ullah Shah, in 2010. Records show that in January 2008, the entire shareholding of Mustique Investments Limited in Talah Limited was sold to Fariah Shah and she was appointed as “sole Director” of the company.

Significantly, Talah Ltd owns an apartment in London confirmed in current UK registry records accessed as part of this investigation. Records show Talah bought the flat for pounds 676, 250 ($1.3 million at 2006 rates when it was bought by the BVI entity).

So just a year later, the ownership of Talah Limited comes to the wife and son of the retired Pakistani General, and with it, the ownership of the London apartment.

While the Panama Papers had linked Akbar Asif to the ownership of Dates Foundation, set up in 2005, the Pandora Papers uncover the existence of at least eight other, mostly, BVI entities.

There is a clear pattern of these entities being set up by Akbar Asif and his wife around 2002-2003 and a year or two later, their shares are transferred to Mustique.

In all, there are 21 companies owned by Akbar Asif for which documents are available in the secret data. One of them is Karram Limited for which Trident Trust incorporation form states that the “source of funds” of Akbar Asif comes from investments in properties and money from running restaurants in Dubai and London while that of his wife from her jewellery business in Dubai.

Correspondence and emails of Trident Trust employees show that while processing the request for transfer of the companies of the Mirchi clan — in the wake of the Panama expose — they get negative “hits” while doing the customary background checks. An email dated June 15, 2017, with reference to the transfer of three Memon companies, reads, “Kindly note our world check findings reflect a hit on the beneficial owners of the companies…”

Mentioned in records is that in 2015, Hajra Memon was sent notices by Enforcement Directorate for allegedly selling properties in Mumbai and using front companies in tax havens to purchase real estate abroad through hawala.

An identical negative input was inserted in the case of her son, Asif Memon. It is also alleged that he was the “manager” of Dawood Ibrahim’s business interests in Dubai, India and the UK. The ICIJ-Indian Express reports on the Mirchi clan are also listed as part of the negative profiles and are part of the data.

Records show that Asif Memon wrote to the Trident Trust denying all allegations: “I would like to state that all of the above was only a media propaganda in order to defame us/ conspire against us…we have obtained police clearance certificates from UAE where we are presently resident and also UK.”

Subsequently, email trails show that the Trident Trust staff asked for certified copies of police clearance certificates before the transfer of companies from Mossack Fonseca was done. In the data, Hajra Memon and Junaid Memon are shown as Indian citizens while Asif Memon as a British citizen.

Marcus Rutherford, lawyer for Iqbal Mirchi’s family, did not respond to questions sent by The Indian Express.

When contacted by ICIJ, Lt Gen (retd) Shafaat Ullah Shah said: “The purchase of Tallah Limited was immediately disclosed to the relevant authority in my Declaration of Assets. Since the purchase of Tallah, all income arising from the asset has been declared to the tax Authorities in my Annual Tax returns and all taxes have been paid to the relevant authorities. Tallah Limited was owned by an offshore holding company and not by Mr Akbar Asif .’’

He added: “Tallah Limited is an SPV, it was purchased in 2007 through a referral by my ex Army colleague working as a consultant with real estate firms in London. The only asset of the company was and is a flat at 155 Discovery Dock East, South Quay Square, London E14 9RZ. The possession of the apartment was provided in 2008. There was no transfer of shares but simply purchase of the Company. There were no shares to transfer to our son Razaullah Shah but only inclusion of his name in the Board of Directors.”

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