Jordan's King Abdullah is among 336 high-level politicians and public officials named so far in the latest financial scandal involving secret offshore dealings and the use of tax havens, to amass huge personal wealth. The 59-year-old is alleged to have secretly spent more than $100 million in purchasing some of the most sought after real-estate in the UK and US as Jordan continues to struggle with skyrocketing unemployment and austerity measures.
Details of Abdullah's secret wealth were revealed yesterday in what is said to be the biggest trove of leaked offshore data in history. Dubbed the Pandora Papers, the cache includes 11.9 million files from companies hired by wealthy clients to create offshore structures and trusts in tax havens such as Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
They expose the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. The documents also shed light on more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries.
The files were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington, which gave access to the leaked data with select media partners. Further details of their findings are expected to be released over the coming days and weeks but it is Abdullah who is the first head of state from the Middle East to have his secret property empire exposed by the Pandora files.
The documents show the Jordanian king owns a network of offshore companies and tax havens to amass a $100 million property empire from Malibu, California to Washington, DC and London. In the most controversial purchase he is alleged to have bought three beachfront mansions in Malibu through three offshore companies for $68 million in the years after Jordanians filled the streets during Arab Spring to protest joblessness and corruption.
While there is no allegation of illegal activities, the revelation has triggered outrage, especially given the woeful state of Amman's economy. "Jordan doesn't have the kind of money that other Middle Eastern monarchies, like Saudi Arabia, have to allow a king to flaunt his wealth," Annelle Sheline, a Middle East scholar, was quoted as saying. "If the Jordanian monarch were to display his wealth more publicly, it wouldn't only antagonize his people, it would p**s off Western donors who have given him money."
Some 565 Israelis are listed in the Pandora Papers, some are said to be prominent figures including former Labor Party Justice Minister Haim Ramon. Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz, who was convicted this year of bribery in a Geneva court, was named along with Likud Member of the Israel Knesset, Nir Barkat.
A deal between Tony Blair and an unnamed person from Bahrain which saved the former UK prime minister some $423,000 in taxes sparked condemnation.
Heads of state and high-profile figures from the Middle East featured heavily in a similar scandal over secret offshore dealings five years ago following revelations in the Panama Papers. Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq were exposed in a huge leak of 11.5 million tax documents from Panamanian offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca.