Pandora Papers: The Secret Tax Havens of the Ultra-Rich






From Latin pop stars to Arab royalty and British millionaires, the Pandora Papers expose the secret wealth of more than 100 billionaires from around the world.

Released to the general public in mid-October by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Pandora Papers consist of over 12 million files filling almost 3 terabytes of data, which expose the illegal use of money laundering and offshore bank accounts to hoard the wealth, of 35 current, former leaders, and more than 300 public officials. Despite the people who leaked them remaining in the shadows, the wealthy exposed in the Pandora Papers have been under heavy scrutiny by the public.

As an example, it was revealed that the Jordanian King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein was secretly buying ornate, flashy homes, some in Malibu, Washington DC, London and Ascot, for over £70 million. All whilst his country was under critical condition, surviving only because of the large network of international foreign aid, and NGOs which were, and are, pumping billions of pounds into the economy to keep it afloat. Despite King Abdullah’s lawyer stating that he  “cares deeply for Jordan and its people, and acts with integrity and in the best interests of his country and its citizens at all times.” Several sources from The Independent within Jordan have reported that the leak of the Pandora Papers has caused widespread mistrust in their “caring” leader. With one in four Jordanians unemployed, according to the IMF, it is difficult to comprehend why the citizens would not have unfaithfulness in a leader who was exposed for owning billions of dollars whilst his own people suffered. 

This major leak of data also exposed the UK’s role as a facilitator of global corruption. The wealthy took advantage of the UK’s largest offshore financial centre–the British Virgin Islands–to invest in the British property market anonymously. In the Pandora Papers, more than two-thirds of the companies are BVI firms. For instance, the papers revealed that the ruling multimillionaire family of Azerbaijan, the Aliyev family, used a network of BVI-registered companies to establish a secret property empire, worth £400m in the UK over the course of 15 years. The Aliyev family purchased a total of 17 properties, one of which is worth £33m in Mayfair, London. This was bought by the family for the president’s 11-year-old son in 2009. While it is legal for offshore companies to hold property without revealing their identities in the UK, it may be a potential loophole in the UK’s property registration system. The rich and the powerful have been exploiting this policy by benefiting from trades, and deals behind closed doors, and even by avoiding paying tax, which is unfair to ordinary citizens in the country.

In order to improve this situation, and to prevent the UK becoming a petri dish for future corruption around the world, multiple organisations such as the Transparency International UK, Oxfam and Global Witness are now urging the UK government to close the loophole as soon as possible, by proposing legislation so that property deals in the UK could be more transparent to the public. The UK government, in response to public opinion, has promised to reinforce tougher laws and introduce a register of offshore companies owning UK property, but only when parliamentary time allows. We are unaware of when exactly this will occur.

By Mariam Asim and Hei Nam Sofia Wong

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