An analysis of more than 11.9 million private financial documents identified secret assets in the offshore financial system belonging to more than 330 politicians and public officials from 91 countries and territories, including 35 current and former national leaders, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported on Sunday.
The asset flows show how leaders on five continents use the global offshore system to create “a shadow economy that benefits the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of everyone else,” according to the report by the U.S.-based nonprofit ICIJ, which led the Pandora Papers, the world’s largest-ever collaborative journalistic investigation involving more than 600 reporters in 117 countries for two years.
Offshore companies are those incorporated in a jurisdiction other than where the beneficial owner resides. It is not illegal to hold assets offshore or to set up shell companies for international business in most countries. The system, however, allows people and businesses to hide assets, minimize taxes and obscure illicit activities.
“Millions of leaked documents and the biggest journalism partnership in history have uncovered financial secrets of 35 current and former world leaders, more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories, and a global lineup of fugitives, con artists and murderers,” ICIJ concluded.
“The secret documents expose offshore dealings of the King of Jordan, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya and Ecuador, the prime minister of the Czech Republic and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair,” it said. “The files also detail financial activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unofficial minister of propaganda” and more than 130 billionaires from Russia, the United States, Turkey and other nations.”
Among the report’s key findings:
- King Abdullah II of Jordan spent more than $106 million on luxury homes in California, Washington, D.C., and other places; his representatives denied any wrongdoing.
- Leaders of the Czech Republic and Kenya secretly own millions of dollars in property and cash.
- Putin reportedly had a child with a Russian woman who later acquired a luxury waterfront apartment in Monaco.
Some leaders used secret U.S. trust companies, such as those in South Dakota. More than two-thirds of the 956 companies that were set up in offshore havens and tied to 336 high-level politicians and public officials had been set up in the British Virgin Islands.
A 2020 analysis by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found US$11.3 trillion in assets are held offshore. Among the notable figures linked by Pandora Papers to offshore assets, ICIJ reported, are India’s cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, pop music superstar Shakira, supermodel Claudia Schiffer and an Italian mobster known as “Lell the Fat One.”