Millions of leaked documents have uncovered financial secrets of 35 current and former world leaders, more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories, 130 billionaires from United States, Russia, Turkey etc., and a global lineup of fugitives, con artists and murderers, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) said. The secret records have been labelled the ‘Pandora Papers’.
The secret documents expose offshore dealings of the King of Jordan, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya and Ecuador, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and key members of Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s inner circle: finance minister Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, Waqar Masood Khan’s son, top PTI donor Arif Naqvi, and key political ally Chaudhry Moonis Elahi. Pakistani military leaders have been implicated as well.
The leaked records reveal that many of the power players who could help bring an end to the offshore system instead benefit from it — stashing assets in covert companies and trusts while their governments do little to slow a global stream of illicit money that enriches criminals and impoverishes nations.
Among the hidden treasures revealed in the documents were three beachfront mansions in Malibu purchased through three offshore companies for $68 million by the King of Jordan in the years after Jordanians filled the streets during Arab Spring to protest joblessness and corruption.
The leaked records come from 14 offshore services firms from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore nooks for clients often seeking to keep their financial activities in the shadows. The investigation shows how the rule of law has been bent and broken around the world by a system of financial secrecy enabled by the US and other wealthy nations.
US/UK firms and territories aid & abet shadowy offshore dealings
Analysis of the secret documents identified 956 companies in offshore havens tied to 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others. More than two-thirds of those companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands, a British ‘overseas territory’ (a relic of Britain’s brutal colonial past) long known as a key cog in the offshore system.
Banks around the world helped their customers set up at least 3,926 offshore companies with the assistance of Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, a Panamanian law firm led by a former ambassador to the US. The document shows that the firm — also known as Alcogal — set up at least 312 companies in the British Virgin Islands for clients of the American financial services giant Morgan Stanley.
The Pandora Papers investigation also highlights how Baker McKenzie, the largest law firm in the US, helped create the modern offshore system and continues to be a mainstay of this shadow economy. Baker McKenzie and its global affiliates have used their lobbying and legislation-drafting know-how to shape financial laws around the world. They have also profited from work done for people tied to fraud and corruption such as Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and Malaysian businessman Jho Low.
The Pandora Papers investigation is larger and more global than ICIJ’s landmark Panama Papers, which rocked the world in 2016, spawning police raids and new laws in dozens of countries and the fall of prime ministers in Iceland and Pakistan.
The new leak of documents reveals the real owners of more than 29,000 offshore companies. The owners come from more than 200 countries and territories, with the largest contingents from Russia, the UK, Argentina and China.
At least $11.3 trillion is held “offshore”, according to a 2020 study by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Because of the complexity and secrecy of the offshore system, it’s not possible to know how much of that wealth is tied to tax evasion and other crimes and how much of it involves funds that come from legitimate sources and have been reported to proper authorities.
(With IANS inputs)