‘Pandora Papers’ reveal hidden wealth of world leaders, celebrities, billionaires

·3-min read

More than a dozen heads of state and government, including the king of Jordan and the Czech prime minister, have amassed millions in secret offshore assets, according to an investigation published Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The so-called "Pandora Papers" investigation, involving some 600 journalists from dozens of media, is based on the leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

“This leak is really Panama Papers on steroids,” said ICIJ Director Gerard Rye in a video clip tweeted Sunday referring to the 2016 leak from a Panama law firm and corporate service provider. “These documents, for the very first time, are actually showing the US as a tax haven itself,” added Rye.

The "Pandora Papers" are the latest in a series of mass ICIJ leaks of financial documents that started with LuxLeaks in 2014, and was followed by the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers and FinCen.

The leaked documents reveal that Jordan’s King Abdullah II created at least 30 offshore companies in countries or territories with advantageous taxation through which he bought 14 luxury properties in the US and UK for more than $106 million.

The BBC cited lawyers for King Abdullah saying all the properties were bought with personal wealth, and that it was common practice for high profile individuals to purchase properties via offshore companies for privacy and security reasons.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis placed $22 million in shell companies that were used to finance the purchase of Chateau Bigaud, a large property in Mougins, southern France, according to the documents.

The secret documents also expose offshore dealings of the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya and Ecuador, and former British prime minister, Tony Blair. The files also detail financial activities of Russian billionaires close to President Vladimir Putin in addition to more than 100 billionaires from the US, Turkey and other nations.

In total, the ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others.

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Maxime Vaudano, a journalist at the French daily Le Monde – one of the ICIJ’s media partners – said the big findings of the Pandora Papers were the number of politicians named in the documents. “It’s more than twice as much as in the Panama Papers,” said Vaudano.

“Another big finding was the fact that there are new tax havens that we didn’t know so much about before, including in the US. For example, South Dakota is appearing as a big tax haven and has taken over when other tax havens like Bermuda or Bahamas were forced to reform.”

In most countries, the ICIJ stresses, it is not illegal to have assets offshore or to use shell companies to do business across national borders.

Anti-corruption campaigners

But the revelations are an embarrassment especially for leaders who may have campaigned publicly against corruption, or advocated austerity measures at home.

In France, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, apparently channelled several million dollars in consulting fees to a tax-exempt Moroccan company.

Among the other revelations from the ICIJ investigation:

  • Family and associates of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are alleged to have been secretly involved in property deals in Britain worth hundreds of millions.

  • Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and six family members are alleged to secretly own a network of offshore companies.

  • Members of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's inner circle, including cabinet ministers and their families, are said to secretly own companies and trusts holding millions of dollars.

  • Putin is not directly named in the files, but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco.

The documents behind the latest investigation are drawn from financial services companies in countries including the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Switzerland.

In addition to politicians, the public figures exposed included Colombian singer Shakira, German supermodel Claudia Schiffer and Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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