- Pandora Documents Investigation Team
- BBC Panorama
The fortunes and secret dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires have been revealed in one of the biggest leaks of financial documents.
The names of about 35 current and former leaders, and more than 300 government officials, appear in the tax havens’ corporate files, dubbed the Pandora Documents.
These documents revealed that the King of Jordan secretly owns real estate in Britain and the United States, worth its value 70 million pounds sterling.
The documents also show how former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife managed to avoid paying £312,000 in stamp duty when they bought an office in London.
The couple bought a company based in a tax haven, and that company owns the building.
The leak also links Russian President Vladimir Putin to secret assets in Monaco, and the documents found that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who faces elections later this week, did not announce the use of a tax haven-based investment firm to buy two villas for 12 million pounds. sterling in southern France.
These leaks are the latest in a series of leaks over the past seven years, following the Vincennes Files, the Paradise Papers, the Panama Papers and the Luxe Lakes.
The examination of these files was the largest, and was organized by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, with the participation of more than 650 reporters.
In a joint investigation with the British newspaper The Guardian and other media partners, BBC Panorama and BBC Arabic managed to access 12 million documents from 14 financial services companies in countries including the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Cyprus and the UAE. United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Switzerland.
Some of the figures face allegations of corruption, money laundering and global tax evasion.
But one of the biggest discoveries is how prominent and wealthy people legally set up companies to buy real estate secretly in Britain.
The documents reveal that the owners of about 95,000 companies, based in tax havens, were behind the purchases.
The documents highlight the British government’s failure to set up a tax haven-based homeowners registry, despite repeated promises to do so, amid concerns that some property buyers may be hiding money laundering activities.
An example of this is Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family, who have been accused of looting their country.
The investigation found that the Aliyevs and their close associates were secretly involved in real estate deals in Britain worth more than £400m.
The revelation could be embarrassing for the British government, as the Aliyevs appear to have made a profit of £31m after selling one of their London properties to the Crown State, the queen’s real estate empire run by the Treasury and through which it raises money for the nation.
Many of the transactions contained in the documents do not involve legal irregularities.
But Fergus Schell of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists says: “There has never been a disclosure of this magnitude that really shows what tax haven-based companies can do to help people hide suspicious money or avoid taxes.”
“They use those offshore accounts and those offshore trusts, to buy hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate in other countries, and to enrich their families, at the expense of their citizens,” he added.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists believes that the investigation “opens a box that contains a lot of things”, hence the name Pandora’s Papers (a reference to the myth of Pandora’s Box that hides many evils in Greek mythology).
real estates King of Jordan in Malibu
Leaked financial documents show how the King of Jordan secretly built a real estate empire in Britain and the United States, worth more than 70 million pounds (more than $100 million).
The documents identify a network of companies based in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens that Abdullah II bin Al Hussein has used to purchase 15 properties since taking power in 1999.
These include three contiguous Pacific Ocean properties in Malibu, California, worth £50 million, and properties in London and Ascot in Britain.
Those real estate interests have been built while King Abdullah is accused of leading an authoritarian regime, with protests erupting in recent years amid austerity measures and tax increases.
King Abdullah’s lawyers said all of the property was purchased with personal wealth, which the king also uses to fund projects for Jordanian citizens.
They also said that it is common practice for high profile individuals to purchase real estate through companies based in tax havens for reasons of privacy and security.
Among other things revealed by the Pandora documents:
- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his family have amassed a personal fortune of nearly $500 million through offshore companies.
- Members of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including ministers and their families, secretly own multimillion-dollar companies and trusts.
- The law firm founded by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades appears to have claimed fake owners to disguise the true owner of a chain of offshore firms, a former Russian politician accused of embezzlement, but the law firm denies this
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky transferred his stake in a secret offshore company before his 2019 election victory
- Ecuadorean President Guillermo Laso, a former banker, replaced a Panamanian institution that made monthly payments to his close family members with a trust fund based in South Dakota in the United States.
What about former British Prime Minister Tony Blair?
There is no indication in the Pandora documents that Tony Blair and his wife, Sherry, were hiding their fortunes.
But the documents explain why the stamp duty, known in Britain as “Stamp Duty”, was not paid when the couple bought a property worth 6.45 million pounds.
The former prime minister and his lawyer wife Sherry acquired the building in Marylebone, central London, in July 2017, by buying the foreign company that owned it.
It is legal to acquire UK property this way and does not have to pay Stamp Duty fees, but Mr Blair has previously been a vocal critic of tax loopholes and tax evasion.
The house in Marylebone, central London, was used as the home of the law firm of Mrs. Blair, which advises governments around the world, as well as the home of her women’s foundation.
Ms Blair said the sellers insisted on buying the house through a foreign company. She said she and her husband had brought the property under UK rules again and would be liable to pay capital gains tax if they sold it in the future.
The actual owners of the property were a politically influential family in Bahrain, but both parties say they did not initially know who they were dealing with.
The boy who owned a property in London worth 33 million pounds
Other documents show how the Aliyev family, the ruling family of Azerbaijan, secretly acquired British properties using companies based in tax havens.
The documents reveal how the family, long accused of corruption in the Central Asian country, bought 17 properties, including a £33m office building in London, for the president’s 11-year-old son, Heydar Aliyev.
The building, located in London’s Mayfair district, was purchased by a facade company owned by the president’s family friend Ilham in 2009.
Then, one month later, ownership was transferred to Hyder.
The research also revealed how another adjacent office building, owned by the family, was sold to the Crown State for £66m in 2018.
Crown Properties said it had carried out the checks required by law at the time of purchase but is now looking into the matter again.
The government says it is cracking down on money laundering with stricter enforcement laws, and that it will provide a registry of companies based in tax havens that own property in Britain, when Parliament time permits.
Pandora’s Documents is a leak of more than 12 million documents and files from offshore companies in tax havens around the world. These documents have shed light on the financial secrets of some of the world’s richest people, including world leaders, politicians and celebrities. The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington, DC, which led the largest global investigation of its kind ever.
More than 600 journalists from 117 countries have traced the hidden fortunes of some of the most powerful people on the planet, BBC Panorama and The Guardian have led the UK investigation.
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