Documents reveal cash flows, hidden riches of powerful rulers
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday published the “Pandora Papers”, a briefing on financial secrets and offshore transactions from dozens of heads of state, officials and politicians from 91 countries and territories.
More than 600 journalists from 150 outlets spent two years investigating nearly 12 million confidential files, a larger cache of documents than the 2016 Panama Papers.
The Pandora Papers reveal how unusual offshore finances and secret riches have infiltrated world politics. Some of those named in the newspapers are prominent political leaders in developing or impoverished countries, such as Jordan and Kenya.
“Many powerful players who could help end the offshore system are profiting instead – hiding assets in secret societies and trusts while their governments do little to slow a global flow of money. illicit that enriches criminals and impoverishes nations, ”he added. ICIJ said in its introduction to the series, which is published by the Washington Post in the United States and the BBC and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.
The names mentioned in the articles are an anthology of heads of state, billionaires and public officials from all corners of the world. Here are five of the biggest takeaways in the series.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
The Panama Papers ended the tenure of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Former cricketer Imran Khan staged protests against Sharif and was elected prime minister in 2018 on a platform of fairness and anti-corruption.
The Washington Post reports that the Pandora Papers do not reveal any offshore accounts of Khan – but they do include people in his inner circle, from one of his ministers to a prominent donor who funded his party, according to the ICIJ.
Khan responded to the survey on Twitter on Sunday.
“My [government] investigate all of our citizens mentioned in the Pandora Papers [and] if wrongdoing is established, we will take appropriate action. I call on the international community to treat this grave injustice as similar to the climate change crisis, “Khan tweeted.
King Abdullah II of Jordan
King Abdullah II bought 14 homes worth more than $ 106 million in the UK and US through shell companies registered in tax havens, the ICIJ said. The properties include apartments in central London and Washington, DC, according to the group.
Accountants and lawyers in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands have formed shell companies in the king’s name and have plans to protect his name from public view, according to the ICIJ.
While owning offshore accounts is not illegal, Jordan is one of the poorest Arab countries and relies heavily on international aid. Most of the deals took place after the Arab Spring in 2011, the ICIJ reported.
“If the Jordanian monarch were to display his wealth more publicly, it would not only upset his people, it would upset Western donors who gave him money,” Middle East expert Annelle Sheline told ICIJ. at the Quincy Institute. .
Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court said in a statement that the report “was inaccurate and distorted and exaggerated the facts.”
“It is no secret that Her Majesty owns a number of apartments and residences in the United States and the United Kingdom. It is neither unusual nor inappropriate,” the court said in its statement.
The properties are used by the king and his family members to stay there on private tours and therefore are not made public for security reasons, and not for the purpose of concealing property, he added.
The cost of maintaining these properties is “funded personally by Her Majesty,” the statement said, adding that “none of these expenses were funded from the state budget or treasury.”
“Any allegation linking these private properties to public funds or public aid is a deliberate and baseless attempt to distort the facts,” the statement said.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta
According to the ICIJ, the family of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has been accumulating a fortune in offshore tax havens for decades. The Pandora Papers show the family owned at least seven entities based in the British Virgin Islands and Panama, two well-known tax havens, the ICIJ said.
Offshore companies have assets worth more than $ 30 million, the ICIJ reported. Kenyatta, who is committed to fighting corruption in his country, is the son of Kenya’s first president after independence.
Most of the family’s businesses were started before Kenyatta was elected president, the ICIJ reported, and documents show some remained active after he took office.
The Pandora Papers show no evidence that the Kenyatta family stole or concealed state assets in their offshore companies, the BBC reported. Kenyatta and members of his family did not respond to requests for comment from the ICIJ.
Kenyatta told CNN that he will “respond comprehensively” to the Pandora Papers once he returns from a trip overseas.
“These reports will go a long way in improving the financial transparency and openness we need in Kenya and around the world. The movement of illicit funds, the proceeds of crime and corruption thrive in an environment of secrecy and obscurity, ”he said, according to a spokesperson.
“The Pandora Papers and subsequent follow-up audits will lift this veil of secrecy and obscurity for those who cannot explain their assets or their wealth,” he added.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis
The ICIJ report claims that the populist Prime Minister of the Czech Republic secretly moved $ 22 million through offshore companies to buy a domain on the French Riviera in 2009, before entering politics.
A businessman worth around $ 3.4 billion according to Bloomberg, Babis has risen against the elite since becoming prime minister in 2017, vowing to fight tax evasion.
The asset declaration forms obtained by Investigace.cz, the Czech partner of the ICIJ, show that neither the ownership of the castle nor the companies involved in its ownership appear in the documents Babis has filed since entering politics. According to the ICIJ and Investigace.cz, these disclosures were required by Czech law.
The ICIJ report was released just days before the parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic. Babis responded on Twitter on Sunday.
“So here it is. I was waiting for what they will withdraw right before the elections, to harm me and influence the Czech elections. There is no case that they can shoot against me. while I’m in politics, “he said. .
“I have never done anything illegal or wrong, but that does not prevent them from trying again to slander me and try to influence the Czech parliamentary elections,” Babis added.
Babis did not respond to requests for comment from the ICIJ.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie Blair avoided paying £ 312,000 ($ 423,000) in stamp duty – a tax on property purchases – when they bought a townhouse in London , reported the BBC. The building now houses Cherie Blair’s law firm.
The Blairs bought the townhouse in 2017 by purchasing the offshore company that owned the property. When the property went up for sale, its ultimate owners were a family with political ties to Bahrain, according to the BBC.
The Blairs created a British company to buy the offshore company. This was legal, but it allowed them to avoid paying a stamp duty, according to the BBC, because the tax is not charged when a business that owns property is acquired.
“It is not unusual for a commercial office building to be held in a company vehicle or for sellers of such property not to want to dispose of the property separately,” Cherie Blair told the BBC.
Cherie Blair also said her husband’s only involvement in the transaction was that the property’s mortgage was using their common income and capital, according to the BBC.
“All arrangements have been made for the express purpose of bringing the business and building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime, where they have remained ever since. All taxes have since been paid and all accounts opened in accordance with the law.” , Cherie Blair said, according to The Guardian.
– Bethlehem Feleke and Tomáš Etzler contributed reporting.
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