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Pandora Papers: Offshore havens and hidden riches of world leaders and billionaires exposed
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Pandora Papers: Offshore havens and hidden riches of world leaders and billionaires exposed 

Pandora Papers: Offshore havens and hidden riches of world leaders and billionaires exposed

…Peter Obi allegedly implicated in global money laundering scandal

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.

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. 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.

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.

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Among the hidden treasures revealed in the documents:

  • A $22 million chateau in the French Riviera – replete with a cinema and two swimming pools – purchased through offshore companies by the Czech Republic’s populist prime minister, a billionaire who has railed against the corruption of economic and political elites.
  • More than $13 million tucked in a secrecy-shaded trust in the Great Plains of the United States by a scion of one of Guatemala’s most powerful families, a dynasty that controls a soap and lipsticks conglomerate that’s been accused of harming workers and the earth.
  • 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 secret records are known as the Pandora Papers.

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The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists obtained the trove of more than 11.9 million confidential files and led a team of more than 600 journalists from 150 news outlets that spent two years sifting through them, tracking down hard-to-find sources and digging into court records and other public documents from dozens of countries.

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 records include information about the dealings of nearly three times as many current and former country leaders as any previous leak of documents from offshore havens.

In an era of widening authoritarianism and inequality, the Pandora Papers investigation provides an unequaled perspective on how money and power operate in the 21st century – and how the rule of law has been bent and broken around the world by a system of financial secrecy enabled by the U.S. and other wealthy nations.

The findings by ICIJ and its media partners spotlight how deeply secretive finance has infiltrated global politics – and offer insights into why governments and global organizations have made little headway in ending offshore financial abuses.

An ICIJ 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 jurisdiction long known as a key cog in the offshore system.

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.

Every corner of the world

The Pandora Papers investigation unmasks the covert owners of offshore companies, incognito bank accounts, private jets, yachts, mansions, even  artworks by Picasso, Banksy and other masters – providing more information than what’s usually available to law enforcement agencies and cash-strapped governments.

People linked by the secret documents to offshore assets include India’s cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, pop music diva Shakira, supermodel Claudia Schiffer and an Italian mobster known as “Lell the Fat One.”

The Pandora Papers show that an English accountant in Switzerland worked with lawyers in the British Virgin Islands to help Jordan’s monarch, King Abdullah II, secretly purchase 14 luxury homes, worth more than $106 million, in the U.S. and the U.K. The advisers helped him set up at least 36 shell companies from 1995 to 2017.

In 2017, the king bought a $23 million property overlooking a California surfing beach through a company in the BVI. The king paid extra to have another BVI company, owned by his Swiss wealth managers, act as the “nominee” director for the BVI company that bought the property.

In the offshore world, nominee directors are people or companies paid to front for whoever is really behind a company. Application forms sent to clients by Alcogal, the law firm working on the king’s behalf, say that the use of nominee directors helps “preserve privacy by avoiding the identity of the ultimate principal . . . being publicly accessible.”

In emails, offshore advisers used a code name for the king: “You know who.”

U.K. attorneys for the king said that he is not required to pay taxes under Jordanian law and that he has security and privacy reasons to hold property through offshore companies. They said the king has never misused public funds.

The attorneys also said that most of the companies and properties identified by ICIJ have no connection to the king or no longer exist, but declined to provide details.

Experts say that, as ruler of one of the Middle East’s poorest and most aid-dependent countries, the king has reasons to avoid flaunting his wealth.

“If the Jordanian monarch were to display his wealth more publicly, it wouldn’t only antagonize his people, it would piss off Western donors who have given him money,” Annelle Sheline, an expert on political authority in the Middle East, told ICIJ.

Peter Obi allegedly implicated in global money laundering scandal – NewsWireNGR

Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, has also been named in the Pandora Papers investigation.

According to Premium Times, a Nigerian publication that was part of the global investigation under the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) umbrella in Washington DC, Obi discreetly set up a company called Gabriella Investments Limited, in the British Virgin Island.

He named the company Gabriella Investments Limited, after his daughter Gabriella Nwamaka.

Obi, the online newspaper reports, first approached Acces International, a secrecy enabler in Monaco, France, to help him incorporate an offshore entity in one of the world’s most notorious tax havens.

Acces International then contracted a local registered agent – Aleman Cordero Galindo & Lee Trust (BVI) Limited (Alcogal) — to set up Gabriella Investments Limited for Obi.

Gabriella Investment Limited was born on November 17, 2010.

On the same day the company was incorporated, the nominee directors met and issued 50,000 shares of Gabriella Investment in favour of Hill International Holding Corporation, a shell International Business Company operating under the laws of Belize, another tax haven.

The director of the company is Mr. Van Vuuren, who is also one of the directors of Gabriella Investment.

Gabriella Investment is now known as PMGG Investments Limited in what is a combination of the first letters of the first names of Obi’s nuclear family: P for Peter (ex-governor), M for Margaret (the ex-governor’s wife), G for Gabriella (the ex-governor’s daughter) and G for Gregory (the ex-governor’s son).

Obi has also created a trust known as The Gabriella Settlement, an entity also registered in the BVI.

The Gabriella Settlement is the sole shareholder of PMGG Investments.

Obi also incorporated another company called Next International (UK) Limited on May 16, 1996, in London.

Investigations show that Obi continued to act as director of Next International (UK) Limited for 14 months after becoming Governor of Anambra State, thereby breaking Nigeria’s laws.

In Nigeria, a person is statutorily obligated to withdraw from engaging in or directing a private business, upon becoming a public officer, as stipulated in Section Six (6) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.

Obi resigned from Next International on May 16, 2008, 14 months after he assumed duties as Anambra Governor.

Obi also contravened Section 11 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which stipulates that public officers are required to declare “immediately after taking office and thereafter all” their properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his (or her) unmarried children under the age of eighteen years.

Investigations have revealed that Obi did not declare the companies he tucked away in offshore secrecy havens to the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Asked about his offshore assets and shell companies, Obi told Premium Times that: “I am sure you too will not like to pay inheritance tax if you can avoid it.”

Obi, 60, was PDP’s vice presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections.

 

[Originally published on ICIJ]

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