Leaked documents open ‘Pandora’ box of financial secrets

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(AP) – Hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug traffickers have hidden their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront properties, yachts and more assets over the past quarter century, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 different companies located around the world.

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

The more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso and former associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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

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

“The new data breach must 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 expand and refine the countermeasures now. “

The Pandora Papers follow on from a similar project released in 2016 called “Panama Papers” compiled by the same group of journalists.

The latest bombshell is even larger, involving nearly 3 terabytes of data – the equivalent of about 750,000 photos on a smartphone – leaked by 14 different service providers doing business in 38 different jurisdictions around the world. Records date back to the 1970s, but most records span from 1996 to 2020.

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

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

Some of the first findings released on Sunday painted a sordid picture of the personalities involved.

For example, the investigation found that advisers helped Jordan’s King Abdullah II set up at least three dozen shell companies from 1995 to 2017, helping the monarch buy 14 homes worth more than $ 106 million. dollars in US and UK. One was a $ 23 million California Ocean. -view of property purchased in 2017 through a British Virgin Islands company. The advisers have been identified as an English accountant in Switzerland and lawyers in the British Virgin Islands.

British lawyers for Abdullah said he was not required to pay taxes under his country’s law and that he had not embezzled public funds, adding that there were reasons for security and confidentiality for it to hold stakes in offshore companies, according to the report. Lawyers also said most of the businesses and properties are unrelated to the king or no longer exist, although they declined to provide details.

Blair, British Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, became the owner of an $ 8.8million Victorian building in 2017 by purchasing a British Virgin Islands company that owned the property, and the building now houses the law firm of his wife, Cherie Blair, according to the survey. The two men bought the company from the family of Bahraini Minister of Industry and Tourism Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani. Buying the shares of the company instead of the building saved the Blairs more than $ 400,000 in property taxes, the investigation found.

The Blairs and al-Zayanis both said they were initially unaware the other side was involved in the deal, the investigation revealed. Cherie Blair said her husband was not involved in the deal, which she said was aimed at bringing “business and construction back into the UK tax and regulatory regime”. A lawyer for al-Zayanis said they obeyed British laws.

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

A real estate group indirectly owned by Babis bought the Monegasque company that owns the castle in 2018, the investigation revealed.

“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 take place on Friday and Saturday.

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


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