One of history’s largest investigative journalism projects has exposed a shadow financial system that served the interest of the world’s rich and powerful, including political leaders, business tycoons, sportspersons, and other celebrities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Pakistan’s Imran Khan, King Abdullah of Jordan, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev are among the top figures whose names are directly or indirectly linked to what is collectively called ‘Pandora Papers’.
A 12 million documents leak containing 2.94 terabytes of data exposed the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including many current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state.
In total, 330 politicians from 90 countries have found their names in the largest exposé carried out by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) marking the biggest collaboration with more than 600 journalists from 117 countries. The leaked records date back to the 1970s with most of the files spanning from 1996 to 2020.
Now that the skeletons in the closet of these high profile elites have been exposed, the enraged reactions of the citizens around the world are compelling authorities in the countries to investigate those who have been leeching off the taxpayer’s money to buy real estate, trade-in shares, use offshore companies, buy mansions, beachfront properties, yachts, expensive artworks etc.
“There’s never been anything on this scale and it shows the reality of what offshore companies can offer to help people hide dodgy cash or avoid tax. They are using those offshore accounts, those offshore trusts, to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of property in other countries, and to enrich their own families, at the expense of their citizens,” says Fergus Shiel of the ICIJ.
The Blairs’ Property
In 2017, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie became the owners of an $8.8 million Victorian building in Marylebone, central London, which now houses Mrs. Blair’s international legal consultancy.
The Blairs find themselves in the paper because instead of buying the property in London, they bought the British Virgin Islands company that held the property thereby evading property taxes (stamp duty) worth more than $400,000 as per the investigation.
— Showbiz (@showbiznotices) October 3, 2021
While it is completely legal to acquire properties in this manner in the UK, this deal has highlighted a major loophole that has for a long time enabled wealthy people to avoid paying taxes which the general public mandatorily has to pay, reports the Guardian.
Putin’s Aides Under Lens
Two members of Putin’s inner circle are listed in the Pandora Papers. Svetlana Krivonogikh, who once worked as a cleaner at the Kremlin Palace and now said to be the mother of Putin’s child owns a $4m Monaco property that was purchased through an offshore company towards the end of 2003, Al Jazeera reported.
The investigation shows that the purchase of the property took place shortly after Krivonogikh gave birth to her daughter.
One more prominent figure named in this data trove is Putin’s image-maker and chief executive of Russia’s leading TV station, Konstantin Ernst. The leaked papers detail how he got a discount to buy and develop Soviet-era cinemas and surrounding property in Moscow after his stint at the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014.
According to Al Jazeera, the Kremlin has refuted all the revelations accusing Putin’s associates as ‘a set of largely unsubstantiated claims’ with Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov quoted saying, “If there are serious publications, that are based on something concrete and refer to something specific, then we will read them with interest.”
Azerbaijan President Aliyev
The Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev and his family have secretly been involved in British property deals worth more than $542 million. Media investigation shows how the Aliyevs bought 17 properties, including a $44.8 million office block in London for the president’s 11-year-old son, Heyder Aliyev. It also reveals how they sold a property to the Crown Estate with a profit of $89.9 million possibly smearing the image of the British Treasury.
Although the Aliyevs have declined to comment on anything, BBC highlights the UK government’s failure to introduce a register of offshore property owners despite reported concerns of these very money-laundering activities by the offshore companies.
Imran Khan’s Cabinet Colleague
While Pakistan PM Imran Khan has not been named in the document, his cabinet members, military generals, and the biggest financial backers of his party have been found guilty of funneling and siphoning off millions of dollars to various jurisdictions under the name of various companies and trusts.
Finance Minister Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, Water Resources Minister Moonis Elahi were the prominent names among the 700 other Pakistani citizens.
Imran Khan, in a tweet, has vowed to recover the “ill-gotten gains” and said his government will look into all citizens mentioned in the documents and take action if needed.
The irony of this uncovered corruption of Khan’s cabinet members takes us back to the Panama Papers of 2016 that had exposed the then-Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif’s offshore dealings which had substantially paved the way for Khan to step up and promise reform.
Other Prominent Leaders
The Pandora as the name suggests has literally “opened up a box on a lot of things” and names of the beneficiaries around the world including Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic, Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and former leaders of Hong Kong CY Leung and Tung Chee-Hwa.
The Pandora Papers unearthed how the world leaders, both current and former — have stashed not millions but trillions of dollars in the shadows of tax havens and shell companies. As Gerard Ryle, Director of ICIJ, said, “This just reveals that people that could end the secrecy of offshore, end what’s going on are themselves benefitting from it. So there is no incentive for them to end this.”