A leak of offshore data has exposed the secret financial dealings of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people.
The cache of almost 12 million files – dubbed the ‘Pandora Papers’ – is said to cover the activities of some 35 current or former world leaders, more than 300 public officials and 100 billionaires.
According to BBC Panorama, which conducted a joint investigation with the Guardian, among the disclosures in the papers are details of the way prominent and wealthy people have been legally setting up companies to secretly buy property in the UK.
In response to the leak, former prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, were forced to angrily deny any wrongdoing after the Guardian and Panorama said they were able to save more than £300,000 in stamp duty when they acquired a £6.45 million London property by buying the offshore company which owned it.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the couple said they had bought the property in “a normal way through reputable agents” and should not have been “dragged into a story about ‘hidden’ secrets of prime ministers etc”.
But what exactly are the Pandora Papers, and who has been implicated in the leaks?
Here is everything you need to know about it:
What are the Pandora Papers?
The Pandora Papers are composed of 11.9 million leaked documents, images, emails, and spreadsheets, amounting to 2.9 terabytes of digital data.
The disclosures are reported to be based on the leak of files from 14 financial services companies in countries including the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Switzerland.
The files were passed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington which then shared access to the data with a number of media organisations including the Guardian and Panorama.
The ICIJ has said it is not identifying its source for the documents.
The reports acknowledge that many of the transactions in the documents involve no legal wrongdoing.
However the Guardian said they highlighted the central coordinating role played by London, with the city home to wealth managers, law firms, company formation agents, and accountants serving their “ultra-rich” clients.
Who is involved?
In total, 35 current and former national leaders appear in the leak, alongside 400 officials from nearly 100 countries.
Among those names are Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim, Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba, and Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso.
King Abdullah II of Jordan is one of the main figures named in the papers, with documents showing he had invested over $100 million (£73.8 million) in property across the UK and the US, including houses in Malibu, Washington, D.C. and London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was shown in the papers to have saved £312,000 in stamp duty on the purchase of a £6.45 million property in London by purchasing Romanstone International Limited, a British Virgin Islands company.
“The Blairs had nothing whatever to do with the original company nor those behind it,” said a spokesperson. “The vendor sold the company not the property – again a decision the Blairs had nothing to with.
“Since the purchase was of a company no buyer would have had to pay UK stamp duty on that transaction. However, because the Blairs then repatriated the company and brought it onshore, they are liable for capital gains and other taxes on the resale of the property which will significantly exceed any stamp duty.”
Elsewhere, a close associate of Vladimir Putin was revealed to have secret assets in Monaco; other names mentioned include pop star Shakira, who was incorporating new offshore entities while going on trial for tax evasion, model Claudia Schiffer, Indian cricket player Sachin Tendulkar, Pakistan's finance minister, Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, and several of Pakistan's top generals.
More than 100 billionaires, 29,000 offshore accounts, 30 current and former leaders, and 300 public officials were named in the leaks.
What can be done about ‘dirty money’?
The Government is facing fresh calls to tighten Britain’s defences against “dirty money”.
Duncan Hames, policy director at the campaign group Transparency International UK, said the disclosures should act as a “wake up call” for the Government to deliver on long-overdue measures to strengthen Britain’s defences against “dirty money”.
“These leaks show that there is one system for corrupt elites who can buy access to prime property and enjoy luxury lifestyles and another for honest hard-working people,” he said.
“The UK must redouble its efforts in tackling illicit finance, bringing in long overdue transparency reforms to reveal who really owns property here as well as resourcing regulators and law enforcement to clamp down on rogue professionals and corrupt cash held in the UK.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said the HMRC will inspect the leaked Pandora papers.
Asked if he has ever benefited from an offshore arrangement, he told Sky News: “No. I haven’t.
“I’ve seen these things overnight as well and it’s always tough for me to comment on them specifically given they’ve only just emerged, and of course HMRC will look through those to see if there’s anything we can learn.”
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