Leaked records open a ‘Pandora’ box of financial secrets

The report released Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists involved 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries. It is known as the “Pandora Papers” because the findings shed light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite and the corrupt, and how they have used offshore accounts to protect assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.

Among the more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts are King Abdullah II of Jordan, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babis, President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, and associates of both Pakistanis. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Billionaires named in the report include Turkish construction mogul Erman Ilicak and Robert T. Brockman, former CEO of software maker Reynolds & Reynolds.

Many of the accounts were designed to evade taxes and hide assets for other shady reasons, according to the report.

“The new data leak should be a wake-up call,” said Sven Giegold, a Green Party lawmaker in the European Parliament. “Global tax evasion fuels global inequality. We need to broaden and fine-tune countermeasures now.”

Oxfam International, a British consortium of charities, applauded the Pandora Papers for exposing blatant examples of greed that deprived countries of tax revenue that could be used to fund programs and projects for the common good.

“This is where our missing hospitals are,” Oxfam said in a statement. “This is where the pay packages for all the additional teachers, firefighters, and civil servants we need lie. Whenever a politician or business leader says there is ‘no money’ to pay for climate damage and innovation, for more and better jobs, for a just recovery after COVID, for more foreign aid, they know where to look. “

The Pandora Papers are a continuation of a similar project launched in 2016 called “Panama Papers” compiled by the same journalistic group.

The latest bomb is even more extensive, carrying nearly 3 terabytes of data, the equivalent of roughly 750,000 photos on a smartphone, leaked from 14 different service providers operating in 38 different jurisdictions around the world. The records date back to the 1970s, but most of the files span from 1996 to 2020.

In contrast, the Panama Papers selected 2.6 terabytes of data leaked by a now-defunct law firm called Mossack Fonseca that was located in the country that inspired that project’s nickname.

The latest investigation dug into accounts registered in offshore family havens, including the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong and Belize. But some of the secret accounts were also scattered in trusts established in the United States, including 81 in South Dakota and 37 in Florida.

Some of the initial findings released Sunday painted a sordid picture of the prominent people involved.

For example, the investigation found that advisers helped Jordan’s King Abdullah II establish at least three dozen shell companies between 1995 and 2017, helping the monarch buy 14 homes worth more than $ 106 million in the US. USA and UK. One was a $ 23 million California ocean. -View property purchased in 2017 through a British Virgin Islands company. The advisers were identified as an English accountant in Switzerland and lawyers in the British Virgin Islands.

There was no immediate comment from the Jordanian Royal Palace.

The details are an embarrassing blow to Abdullah, whose government was embroiled in scandal this year when his half brother, former Crown Prince Hamzah, accused the “ruling system” of corruption and incompetence. The king claimed to be the victim of a “malicious plot”. , “put his half brother under house arrest and prosecuted two former close associates.

Abdullah’s UK lawyers said that he is not required to pay taxes under his country’s law and that he has not misused public funds, adding that there are security and privacy reasons for him to have holdings through of offshore companies, according to the report. The lawyers also said that most of the businesses and properties are not connected to the king or no longer exist, although they declined to provide details.

Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007, became the owner of an $ 8.8 million Victorian building in 2017 by purchasing a British Virgin Islands company that owned the property, and the building now houses the law firm of attorneys for his wife, Cherie Blair, according to the investigation. The two bought the company from the family of Bahrain’s minister of tourism and industry, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani. Buying the company’s shares in lieu of the London building saved the Blairs more than $ 400,000 in property taxes, the investigation found.

The Blairs and al-Zayanis said they were initially unaware that the other party was involved in the deal, according to the investigation. Cherie Blair said her husband was not involved in the purchase, which she said was intended to bring “the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime.” She also said that she did not want to own a business in the British Virgin Islands. and that the “seller for his own purposes only wanted to sell the company,” which is now closed.

A lawyer for the al-Zayanis said they were complying with UK law.

Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, is not charged with any crime. But members of his inner circle, including Finance Minister Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, are accused of hiding millions of dollars in wealth in secret companies or trusts, according to the journalists’ findings.

In a tweet, Khan promised to recoup “ill-gotten gains” and said his government will screen all citizens named in the documents and take action, if necessary.

The consortium of journalists revealed that Putin’s image maker and CEO of Russia’s main television station Konstantin Ernst got a discount to buy and develop Soviet-era cinemas and surrounding properties in Moscow after directing the Olympics. Winter 2014 in Sochi. Ernst told the organization that the deal was not secret and denied suggestions that he was given special treatment.

In 2009, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis invested $ 22 million in shell companies to buy property in a castle in a hilltop village in Mougins, France, near Cannes, according to the investigation. The shell companies and the castle were not disclosed in the asset declarations required by Babis, according to documents obtained by the journalists group’s Czech partner Investigace.cz.

A real estate group indirectly owned by Babis bought the Monaco company that owns the castle in 2018, according to the investigation.

“I was waiting for them to bring something just before the elections to harm me and influence the Czech elections,” Babis tweeted in his first reaction to the report.

Parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic will take place on Friday and Saturday.

“I have never done anything illegal or wrong,” Babis added.

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This story has been published from a news agency feed with no changes to the text. Only the title has been changed.

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