Governments scrambled on Monday to limit the fallout from a release of millions of documents detailing how world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires and others have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Some 35 current and former leaders are featured in roughly 11.9 million documents leaked from financial services companies across the world, known as the “Pandora Papers”.
The documents were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and released in stories by media partners including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian.
Allegations range from corruption to money laundering and tax avoidance.
Although holding assets offshore or using shell companies is not illegal in most countries, the revelations are embarrassing for leaders who have pushed austerity measures or campaigned against corruption.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin is not named but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco, particularly a waterfront home acquired by a Russian woman reported to have had a child with him.
“This is just a set of largely unsubstantiated claims,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“We didn’t see anything on hidden wealth within Putin’s inner circle.”
Jordan was also keen to play down the revelations, which exposed how King Abdullah II created a network of offshore companies and tax havens to amass a $100 million property empire from California to London.
The country’s royal court said the properties were funded with the king’s personal wealth and were used for official and private visits.
“Any allegations that link these private properties to public funds or assistance are baseless and deliberate attempts to distort facts,” a statement said.
Czech PM hits back
The ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including more than a dozen serving heads of state and government, country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others.
More than two-thirds of the companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.
Family and associates of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev – long accused of corruption in the central Asian nation – are alleged to have been secretly involved in property deals in Britain worth hundreds of millions.
And the documents also show how Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis – who faces an election later this week – failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth $22 million in the south of France.
“I have never done anything illegal or wrong,” Babis hit back in a tweet, calling the revelations a smear attempt aimed at influencing the election.Pandora Papers: What is offshore banking, and how does it work?
Nearly two million of the 11.9 million leaked documents came from a Panamanian law firm called Alcogal, which the ICIJ said had become “a magnet for the rich and powerful” seeking to hide wealth offshore.
Alcogal, whose clients allegedly included the Jordanian monarch and Czech prime minister, rejected accusations of shady dealings.
ICIJ’s director Gerard Ryle said in a video accompanying the investigation that those best placed to halt such practices were the ones who were benefiting most.
Tony Blair and Dominique Strauss-Kahn
The former British prime minister Tony Blair – who has been critical of tax loopholes – also appears in the files which detail how he and his wife Cherie legally avoided paying stamp duty on a multi-million pound property in London, by buying the offshore company that owned it.
So does Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who is alleged to have funnelled millions of dollars in earnings from consultancy and speaking gigs through tax-exempt companies based in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.Strauss-Kahn was ‘using tax havens to maximise his profits’
As well as politicians, the public figures exposed included the Colombian singer Shakira, the German supermodel Claudia Schiffer and the Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
Among the other revelations from the ICIJ investigation:
- Members of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle are said to secretly own companies and trusts holding millions of dollars. Khan vowed to “take appropriate action” if any wrongdoing is proved.
- Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky allegedly transferred his stake in a secret offshore company just before he won the 2019 election.
- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is alleged to secretly own a network of offshore companies.
- Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso and Gabon’s Ali Bongo were linked with companies in the British Virgin Islands in a report by Le Monde, one of the media partners in the investigation.
Pandora Papers: Kenyatta family’s secret assets exposed
The “Pandora Papers” are the latest in a series of mass leaks handled by the ICIJ, from LuxLeaks in 2014, to the 2016 Panama Papers.
They were followed by the Paradise Papers in 2017 and FinCen files in 2020.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)