World leaders in ‘Pandora Papers’ ducking for cover

The damning revelations in the “Pandora Papers” have left a series of world leaders scrambling to defend their secret big-money dealings — and reportedly even try to quash them from being reported.

The exposé of nearly 12 million files released Sunday identified more than 330 current and former politicians as beneficiaries of secret accounts.

They include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had mounted a political comeback by campaigning against corruption.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair — a left-wing leader who railed against unfair tax havens while in office — was also identified, as were key associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been implicated in the “Pandora Papers” for getting additional funds from secret deals and offshore accounts.Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via AP

The revelations from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists left many of the exposed leaders trying to defend their secret riches — and even force media outlets not to report on them.

A member of the only news organization in Jordan to report on the claims facing its king was ordered by Jordanian intelligence to remove the story, the journalist who wrote it told the Washington Post.

“We got a call late at night, asking us to delete the story,” said the journalist, who asked for anonymity for both himself and his news organization for fear of retribution

The Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis along with several other countries leaders are accused of benefiting from offshore accounts.
The Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babis, along with several other countries’ leaders, are accused of benefiting from offshore accounts.

“They told us you’re the only site that published the documents, delete the story. So I deleted the story,” the journalist said.

The investigation found advisers helped Abdullah set up at least three dozen shell companies from 1995 to 2017, helping the monarch buy 14 homes worth more than $106 million in the US and the U.K. 

King Abdullah II of Jordan is reported to have secretly bought $106 million in luxury homes over the past decade by using offshore transactions.
King Abdullah II of Jordan is reported to have secretly bought $106 million in luxury homes over the past decade by using offshore transactions.

One was a $23 million California ocean-view property bought in 2017 through a British Virgin Islands company. 

It came after Abdullah’s government was already engulfed in scandal when his half-brother, former Crown Prince Hamzah, accused the “ruling system” of corruption and incompetence. 

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of being part of a group of world leaders who use secret deals to increase their wealth.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of being part of a group of world leaders who use secret deals to increase their wealth.

The king retaliated by putting his half-brother under house arrest, claiming he was a victim of a “malicious plot.”

Jordan’s Royal Court ripped the “Pandora Papers” as a “flagrant security breach and a threat to His Majesty’s and his family’s safety.”

It denied there was anything untoward in the property purchases, and insisted no public funds were used to buy them.

Pandora Papers: Newly revealed docs expose tax havens for rich and famous

“These properties are not publicized out of security and privacy concerns, and not out of secrecy or an attempt to hide them, as these reports have claimed,” the Royal Court statement said. 

“Measures to maintain privacy are crucial for a head of state of His Majesty’s position.”

The revelations were also embarrassing for former UK leader Blair, who complained about tax havens favoring the rich, the BBC noted.

The papers showed that he avoided paying more than $400,000 in property taxes in 2017 when he obtained the $8.8 million Victorian building that now hosts the law firm of his wife, Cherie Blair.

That was possible by taking ownership by buying a British Virgin Islands company from the family of Bahrain’s industry and tourism minister, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani, rather than buying the building itself.

The Blairs and the al-Zayanis both said they didn’t initially know the other party was involved in the deal. Cherie Blair said her husband wasn’t involved in the purchase, which she said was meant to bring “the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime.” 

She also said she did not want to own a British Virgin Islands company and that the “seller for their own purposes only wanted to sell the company,” which is now closed. 

“It is not unusual for a commercial office building to be held in a corporate vehicle or for vendors of such property not to want to dispose of the property separately,” she insisted. 

The Tony Blair Insititute said Monday that it was an attempt “deliberately to misrepresent the purchase.”

“They have always paid their taxes in full and have never used offshore avoidance schemes of any kind,” the institute insisted.

A lawyer for the al-Zayanis said they complied with UK laws.

Czech leader Babis also denied any wrongdoing after the papers revealed he’d moved $22 million through offshore companies to buy an estate on the French Riviera in 2009 while keeping his ownership secret.

“The money left a Czech bank, was taxed, it was my money, and returned to a Czech bank,” insisted Babis, who is campaigning for an Oct. 8-9 election.

Putin’s alleged mistress has $100M, ‘Pandora Papers’ reveal

He dismissed the report as “nasty, false accusations that are meant to influence the election. That’s all.”

“I don’t own any offshore, I don’t own any property in France, and all the money I loaned then I got back,” he said.

 “Let the police investigate that,” he said — as the Czech police’s organized crime unit confirmed it was investigating.

The revelations were also embarrassing for Kenyan President Kenyatta, who last year used his annual State of the Nation address to urge lawmakers to help him fight corruption.

Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan has also been implicated in the "Pandora Papers" as several family members and associates have hidden away massive funds.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has also been implicated in the “Pandora Papers” as several family members and associates have hidden away massive funds.

The report claims that Kenyatta, his mother, sisters and brother have for decades hidden assets worth more than $30 million through foundations and companies in tax havens, including Panama.

Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, is not accused of any wrongdoing, but members of his inner circle are accused of hiding millions in secret companies or trusts.

Khan vowed in a tweet 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 report also said it tied hidden millions to associates of Russian leader Putin — including $100 million in “secret wealth” of his alleged longtime mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh.

“This is just a set of largely unsubstantiated claims,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in dismissing the leaks Monday.

“We didn’t see anything on hidden wealth within Putin’s inner circle,” Peskov said, adding it was not clear “how this information can be trusted.”

The papers were instead a sign of US failure, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, noting that President Biden promised to fight corruption as a national security priority, yet the United States was “the largest” tax haven.

“According to the publication, billions of dollars in South Dakota belongs to those accused of financial crimes,” Zakharova said, according to the Washington Post.

While those named scrambled to defend themselves, critics insisted the report left no doubt as to the damage the secret investments caused.

“This is where our missing hospitals are,” said Oxfam International, a British consortium of charities.

“This is where the pay-packets sit of all the extra teachers and firefighters and public servants we need. 

“Whenever a politician or business leader claims there is ‘no money’ to pay for climate damage and innovation, for more and better jobs, for a fair post-COVID recovery, for more overseas aid, they know where to look,” the group insisted.

With Post wires

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