The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a global group of reporters and media outlets, has published a vast treasure trove of financial records, dubbed the Pandora Papers. The 11.9 million confidential documents, sourced from a dozen separate legal and financial services organizations, exposed the hidden dealings of 300 current and former world leaders and politicians in more than 90 countries for the last 25 years. According to the report that involved 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in more than 100 countries, the world’s richest and most powerful held accounts that would evade taxes and conceal assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.
Who are some of these global elites, will they engage in damage control, and how will the international community respond?
The most well-known name on the list is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In 2017, Blair and his wife, Cherie, purchased 30 Harcourt St., a four-floor former townhouse in central London. Cherie located Omnia Strategy, her government advisory firm, at the property. The Pandora Papers discovered that the couple launched Harcourt Ventures, with both controlling a 50% stake. The company then scooped up a portion of Romanstone, a business owned by family of Zayed bin Rashid Alzayani, a minister for industry, commerce, and tourism in Bahrain. Finally, the joint venture was dissolved, allowing 30 Harcourt St. to be directly owned by their firm.
It was revealed that the Blair family saved £300,000 ($408,000) in tax when they purchased the London office space valued at $8.8 million by also acquiring the British Virgin Islands (BVI) company that was owned by Alzayani. The Blairs enjoyed the tax savings because they bought the property’s holding company and not the building directly.
In an interview with The London Guardian, Cherie Blair denied anything unscrupulous about these transactions, telling the newspaper:
“All the arrangements were made for the express purpose of bringing the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime, where it has remained ever since. All taxes have been paid ever since and all accounts openly filed in accordance with the law.”
Who else was named in these investigations?
Other Presidents and Prime Ministers
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, his family, and close associates were allegedly participants in real estate deals in the United Kingdom worth more than $500 million. Jordan’s King Abdullah II accumulated approximately $100 million in property across the United States and United Kingdom through clandestine businesses between 2003 and 2017.
Multiple leaders in Lebanon, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his predecessor, Hassan Diab, have utilized offshore havens. However, the prime minister’s son, Maher, rejected anything nefarious about these moves, arguing that offshore firms proffer greater “flexibility” for renting, inheritance planning, and tax advantages.
Pakistan was featured throughout the report. While Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appears to be clean, his cabinet ministers, party donors, family members, and even military generals transferred millions of dollars through foreign entities. Khan has promised to probe his government and the roughly 700 citizens linked to the Pandora Papers.
Africa, Europe, and South America
In April 2003, Svetlana Krivonogikh became the owner of an apartment in Monaco through an offshore company incorporated on a Caribbean island. This came just weeks after she gave birth to a girl. According to a widely known Washington newspaper, the Russian woman was in a years-long surreptitious relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, Konstantin Ernst, the head of Russia’s leading television station, garnered a discount to acquire and renovate Soviet-era cinemas in Moscow. This came soon after he directed the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He denied wrongdoing.
Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis was accused in the papers of not disclosing an offshore investment entity that was used to scoop up two multi-million-dollar villas in the south of France. He rejected the claims, writing on Twitter that these accusations are being made to influence this week’s elections. Babis insists that he has “never done anything wrong or illegal.”
Chile President Sebastian Pinera was accused of selling a copper and iron mine to a childhood friend. Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso operated 14 tax havens, with most of them situated in Panama. He shut them down after the government passed a law prohibiting candidates from acting as beneficial owners of firms operating offshore. Lasso argued that he only established these accounts because the state forbids bankers from investing in the country.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and six family members were connected to 13 offshore companies. Kenyatta promised to issue a comprehensive response, adding that extensive reportage “will go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe.”
Many other affluent and well-known private individuals were named in the report for taking advantage of anonymous offshore accounts. From Canadian celebrities Jacques Villeneuve and Elvis Stojko to singers Shakira and Elton John, wealthy individuals participated in a complicated web of alleged tax-avoidance efforts and offshore accounting. Many of the people in the report have rejected the findings of the Pandora Papers, claiming errors or not doing anything illegal. Like the Panama Papers, this exposé will generate widespread condemnation and a bombardment of pledges to tackle this problem.
“When we published the Panama Papers a few years ago, there was a lot of outcry around the world saying that this was a system that needed to end,” said Gerard Ryle, the ICIJ’s director. “But we’re now seeing the very people who could end the system … themselves benefiting from it.”
Will anything be done about it? It is unclear, considering that many of the policymakers and wealthy, from politicians to celebrities, partake in the practice of shielding their money from the taxman.
~ Read more from Andrew Moran.