Massive data leak exposes hidden wealth of world leaders


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The hidden wealth of hundreds of rich and powerful people from across the world has been exposed in one of the world’s biggest leaks of financial information.

The financial transactions of dozens of world leaders, from King Abdullah of Jordan to the former UK prime minister Tony Blair, are detailed in the leak, which show how the wealthiest people in the world use offshore tax havens to store and move their money.

The documents, which were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with a handful of news organisations, not including the Financial Times, have been dubbed the “Pandora Papers”. They come from 14 offshore organisations and contain more data than the Panama Papers, which were leaked in 2016 from the law firm Mossack Fonseca.

According to the news organisations, the papers show how King Abdullah II secretly bought properties worth more than $100m in London, Washington and Malibu, California.

The king reportedly used a network of offshore accounts to buy three adjacent properties in Malibu for nearly $70m between 2014 and 2017. The middle one, the paper said, contains seven bedrooms, nine baths, a gym, a cinema and a swimming pool.

The US provided more than $1.5bn in aid to Jordan in 2020 — though the king’s lawyers told reporters he had not misused aid or public money.

Tony and Cherie Blair, meanwhile, took ownership of a £6.5m office in Marylebone in 2017 by buying a British Virgin Islands company owned by Zayed bin Rashid Alzayani, a Bahraini minister. The transaction saved them a reported £312,000 in property taxes.

Cherie Blair told the Guardian there was “nothing unusual or underhand in any of this”, adding that she did not know the identity of the sellers before buying the property.

According to the documents, a Russian woman who was reportedly in a relationship with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, became the owner of a luxury apartment in Monte Carlo in 2003, just weeks after giving birth. The apartment, which cost €3.6m and included two parking spaces and the use of a pool, was bought using a company in the British Virgin Islands.

Neither the Kremlin nor the woman, Svetlana Krivonogikh, responded to the news organisations’ requests for comment.

Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s strongman president of 13 years, is also reportedly named in the documents, which detail how a network of offshore companies linked to his family and associates has traded about £400m worth of property in the UK. The family bought 17 properties, including a £33m office block in London for the president’s 11-year-old son.

The Aliyev family did not respond to news organisations’ requests to comment.

Others shown to own offshore companies include Andrej Babis, the Czech prime minister who is facing re-election this week. The ICIJ said Babis spent $22m through shell companies on a sprawling property known as Chateau Bigaud in the south of France.

Babis refused to answer questions about the purchase when confronted about it by a BBC reporter.

According to the ICIJ, more than 330 politicians and senior officials were named in the documents — including 35 country leaders.

The data came from 14 offshore service providers based in Panama, the Seychelles, Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, Cyprus, Switzerland and the UAE.

The documents also include information on trusts in a number of US states, — including South Dakota, Florida and Delaware — which have become increasingly popular locations for billionaires seeking to park their wealth in recent years.

South Dakota allows people not only to avoid tax by putting money into trusts, but also to remain hidden from almost anyone — including the eventual beneficiary. South Dakotan trust funds held assets of more than $367bn by the end of last year, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Regulation.