Offshore assets of heads of state, govt revealed in Pandora Papers

Published October 4, 2021
This combination file photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Jordan's King Abdullah (R). — Reuters
This combination file photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Jordan's King Abdullah (R). — Reuters

WASHINGTON: More than a dozen heads of state and government, including the king of Jordan and the Czech prime minister, have hidden millions in offshore tax havens, according to an investigation published on Sunday by the ICIJ media consortium.

The so-called “Pandora Papers” investigation — involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian — is based on the leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

Some 35 current and former leaders are featured in the documents analysed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — facing allegations ranging from corruption to money laundering and global tax avoidance.

The documents notably expose how King Abdullah II created a network of offshore companies and tax havens to amass a $100 million property empire from Malibu, California to Washington and London.

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.

ICIJ finds links between about 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials

The documents also show Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis — facing an election later this week — failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth $22m in the south of France.

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.

More than two-thirds of the companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands. 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.

But such revelations are no less of an embarrassment for leaders who may have campaigned publicly against corruption, or advocated austerity measures at home.

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.

— Russian President Vladimir Putin is not directly named in the files, but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco.

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 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.

Panama, meanwhile, expressed fears that publication of the new expose could again taint its reputation, which was seriously damaged by the “Panama Papers” scandal, according to a government letter released by local media.

“The damage could be insurmountable,” the Panamanian government said in the letter, sent through a law firm to the ICIJ. It warned that any publication reinforcing “a false perception” of the country as a possible tax haven “will have devastating consequences for Panama and its people”.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2021

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