ICIJ exposes over dozen heads of state, govts' offshore millions

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Washington, D.C. (Web Desk): The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday unveiled “Pandora Papers”, uncovering financial secrets held by more than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the ICIJ media consortium.

The “Pandora Papers” investigation -- involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian -- is based on the leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world. Some 35 current and former leaders are featured in the latest vast trove of documents analyzed by the ICIJ -- facing allegations ranging from corruption to money laundering and global tax avoidance.

In most countries, the ICIJ stresses, it is not illegal to have assets offshore or to use shell companies to do business across national borders.

But such revelations are no less of an embarrassment for leaders who may have campaigned publicly against tax avoidance and corruption, or advocated austerity measures at home.

The documents notably expose how Jordan’s King Abdullah II created a network of offshore companies and tax havens to amass a $100 million property empire from Malibu, California to Washington and London.

Family and associates of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev -- long accused of corruption in the central Asian nation -- are alleged to have been secretly involved in property deals in Britain worth hundreds of millions.

And the documents also show how Czech Prime minister Andrej Babis -- who faces an election later this week -- failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth $22 million in the south of France.

In total, the ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including more than a dozen serving heads of state and government, country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others.

More than two-thirds of the companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.

The former British prime minister Tony Blair -- who has been critical of tax loopholes -- also appears in the files which detail how he and his wife Cherie legally avoided paying stamp duty on a multi-million pound property in London, by buying the offshore company that owned it.

As well as politicians, the public figures exposed included the Colombian singer Shakira, the German supermodel Claudia Schiffer and the Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

Among the other revelations from the ICIJ investigation:

-- Russian President Vladimir Putin is not directly named in the files, but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco.

-- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta -- who has campaigned against corruption and for financial transparency -- is alleged along with several family members of secretly owning a network of offshore companies.

-- Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky allegedly transferred his stake in a secret offshore company just before he won the 2019 election.

-- And the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, apparently channelled several million dollars in consulting fees to a tax-exempt Moroccan company.

Colombian singer Shakira and former cricket star Sachin Tendulkar of India are also among the affluent individual people who have been named in the Pandora Papers investigation.