After releasing a list of names of people with overseas accounts in 2017 by the name of Panama Papers ― not all accounts in which were illegal ― the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has come up with Pandora Papers. Hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers have been hiding their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets for the past quarter-century, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world.
The report released yesterday by the ICIJ involved 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries. It’s being dubbed the “Pandora Papers” because the findings shed light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite and the corrupt, and how they have used offshore accounts to shield assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.
The more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, and associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Many of the accounts were designed to evade taxes and conceal assets for other shady reasons, according to the report.
Hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers have been hiding their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets for the past quarter-century, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world.
The billionaires called out in the report include Turkish construction mogul Erman Ilicak and Robert T Brockman, the former CEO of software maker Reynolds & Reynolds.
“The new data leak must be a wake-up call,” said Sven Giegold, a Green party lawmaker in the European Parliament. “Global tax evasion fuels global inequality. We need to expand and sharpen the countermeasures now.”
Oxfam International, a British consortium of charities, applauded the Pandora Papers for exposing brazen examples of greed that deprived countries of tax revenue that could be used to finance programs and projects for the greater good.
“This is where our missing hospitals are,” Oxfam said in a statement. “This is where the pay-packets sit of all the extra teachers and firefighters and public servants we need. Whenever a politician or business leader claims there is ‘no money’ to pay for climate damage and innovation, for more and better jobs, for a fair post-Covid recovery, for more overseas aid, they know where to look.”
The Pandora Papers are a follow-up to a similar project released in 2016 called the “Panama Papers” compiled by the same journalistic group.
The latest bombshell is even more expansive, porting through nearly 3 terabytes of data — the equivalent of roughly 750,000 photos on a smartphone — leaked from 14 different service providers doing business in 38 different jurisdictions in the world. The records date back to the 1970s, but most of the files span from 1996 to 2020.
In contrast, the Panama Papers culled through 2.6 terabytes of data leaked by one now-defunct law firm called Mossack Fonseca that was located in the country that inspired that project’s nickname.
The latest investigation dug into accounts registered in familiar offshore havens, including the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong and Belize. But some of the secret accounts were also scattered around in trusts set up in the US, including 81 in South Dakota and 37 in Florida.
Some of the initial findings released Sunday painted a sordid picture of the prominent people involved.
For instance, the investigation found advisers helped King Abdullah II of Jordan set up at least three dozen shell companies from 1995 to 2017, helping the monarch buy 14 homes worth more than $ 106 million in the U.S. and the U.K. One was a $ 23 million California ocean-view property bought in 2017 through a British Virgin Islands company. The advisers were identified as an English accountant in Switzerland and lawyers in the British Virgin Islands.
There was no immediate comment from Jordan’s Royal Palace.
The Pandora Papers are an embarrassing blow to Abdullah, whose government was engulfed in scandal this year when his half brother, former Crown Prince Hamzah, accused the “ruling system” of corruption and incompetence. The king claimed he was the victim of a “malicious plot,” placed his half brother under house arrest and put two former close aides on trial.
British attorneys for Abdullah said he isn’t required to pay taxes under his country’s law and hasn’t misused public funds, adding that there are security and privacy reasons for him to have holdings through offshore companies, according to the report. The attorneys also said most of the companies and properties are not connected to the king or no longer exist, though they declined to provide details.
Blair, UK prime minister from 1997 to 2007, became the owner of an $ 8.8 million Victorian building in 2017 by buying a British Virgin Islands company that held the property, and the building now hosts the law firm of his wife, Cherie Blair, according to the the investigation. The two bought the company from the family of Bahrain’s industry and tourism minister, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani. Buying the company shares instead of the London building saved the Blairs more than $ 400,000 in property taxes, the investigation found.
The Blairs and the al-Zayanis both said they didn’t initially know the other party was involved in the deal, the probe found. Cherie Blair said her husband wasn’t involved in the purchase, which she said was meant to bring “the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime.” She also said she did not want to own a British Virgin Islands company and that the “seller for their own purposes only wanted to sell the company,” which is now closed.
A lawyer for the al-Zayanis said they complied with U.K. laws.
Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, is not accused of any wrongdoing. But members of his inner circle, including Finance Minister Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, are accused of hiding millions of dollars in wealth in secret companies or trusts, according to the journalists’ findings.
In a tweet, Khan vowed to recover the “ill-gotten gains” and said his government will look into all citizens mentioned in the documents and take action, if needed.
The Pandora Papers revealed Putin’s image-maker and chief executive of Russia’s leading TV station, Konstantin Ernst, got a discount to buy and develop Soviet-era cinemas and surrounding property in Moscow after he directed the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Ernst told the organization the deal wasn’t secret and denied suggestions he was given special treatment.
In 2009, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis put $ 22 million into shell companies to buy a chateau property in a hilltop village in Mougins, France, near Cannes, the investigation found. The shell companies and the chateau were not disclosed in Babis’ required asset declarations, according to documents obtained by the journalism group’s Czech partner, Investigace.cz.
A real estate group owned indirectly by Babis bought the Monaco company that owned the chateau in 2018, the probe found.
“I was waiting for them to bring something right before the election to harm me and influence the Czech election,” Babis tweeted in his first reaction to the report.
The Czech Republic parliamentary election is being held on Friday and Saturday.
“I’ve never done anything illegal or wrong,” Babis added.
What about Sachin Tendulkar in Pandora Papers?
Indian cricket ‘god’ Sachin Tendulkar, who has been a member of the upper house of the parliament, along with members of his family, figures in the Pandora Papers as Beneficial Owners of an offshore entity in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) which was liquidated in 2016. However, according to a report in The Indian Express, the Tendulkars are not guilty. The report follows.
Sachin, with wife Anjali Tendulkar and father-in-law Anand Mehta, as per an investigation of records of Panama law firm Alcogal which are part of Pandora Papers, are named as BOs and Directors of a BVI-based company: Saas International Limited. The data is part of documents from Panamian law firm, Alcogal, with their company being incorporated by LJ Management (Suisse).
Saas’s first reference in the Pandora records dates back to 2007 and the most detailed set of documents, along with financial benefits for the company’s owners, are available from the time of liquidation of the company in July 2016.
At the time of liquidation of the company, its shares were bought back by shareholders as per the value listed:
· Sachin Tendulkar (9 shares): $ 856,702
· Anjali Tendulkar (14 shares ): $ 1,375,714
· Anand Mehta (5 shares) $ 453,082
This way, the average buyback price of shares of Saas International Limited is around $ 96,000. And as a resolution of the company dated 10 August 2007 (the day the company was formed) shows, 90 shares of the company were issued at the outset.
Anjali Tendulkar got the first share certificate with 60 shares; her father got the second share certificate with 30 shares. While there are no details of buyback of the remaining shares, the value of 90 shares can be pegged at $ 8.6 million (roughly Rs 60 crore).
The date of liquidation of Saas International Limited is significant as it came three months after the Panama Papers expose.
In Alcogal spreadsheets, Sachin Tendulkar and Anjali Tendulkar also figure in logs where they are categorized as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs). In one registry of PEPs, Sachin Tendulkar is listed on account of him being an MP and is put in the “high risk” category.
Another review of Sachin and Anjali’s PEP status was done in May 2016 two months prior to the winding up of Saas International Limited.
Sachin Tendulkar’s tenure as nominated member of the Rajya Sabha was from 2012 to 2018 and for four of these years, his BVI entity was registered and running with Alcogal.
As per regulations, nominated Members of the Rajya Sabha are not required to submit their annual list of assets and liabilities as other elected MPs need to.
In the sets of data on Saas International Limited, its MoA states that it was a company limited by shares and was authorized to issue 50,000 shares with par value of $ 1 each. Another company, by the name of Cellar Limited, was appointed its secretary.
Also, that subject to legislation of the BVI, the company could “carry on or undertake any business or activity, including trading of any commodities or goods…”
At the time of its liquidation, Panamanian national John B Foster was appointed as the company’s “voluntary liquidator.” There is also a certificate of solvency stating that the value of the company’s assets equals or exceeds its liabilities. The final date of dissolution of the company is given as 31 August 2016.
The shareholders’ resolution for dissolution is signed by all three of its shareholders: Sachin Tendulkar, Anjali Tendulkar and Anand Mehta.
As per regulations of Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) Act, 2003, there are also details about where the “location of records and underlying documentation” for Saas International Limited will be after its liquidation.
The certificate, dated 15 July 2016 (the day the liquidation was initiated), shows that the records would be maintained by LJ Management in Neuchatel, Switzerland.
When contacted, Mrinmoy Mukherjee, CEO and Director of Sachin Tendulkar Foundation, said: “The referenced investment by Mr. Tendulkar has been made by him from his tax paid funds under the Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS) and has been duly accounted for and declared in his tax returns.
Under the LRS scheme, as of March 2007, an individual could remit $ 100,000 per year for specified purposes. This was raised to $ 200,000 in September 2007, cut sharply to $ 75,000 in August 2013, revised upward to $ 125,000 in June 2014 and then doubled to the existing $ 250,000 in May 2015.
“You have, in your email, not only recognised the legal uses of offshore companies, but also indicated that the ICIJ’s intention is to look into the use of certain jurisdictions by persons to engage in money laundering, tax evasion and other illicit activities.
“This being the case, we would therefore at the outset wish to strongly reiterate the legitimacy of the referenced investment by Mr. Tendulkar, the payment of taxes on such funds, and the declaration of such investment in Mr. Tendulkar’s tax returns. As is evident from the payment of taxes by Mr. Tendulkar and the declaration of such investment in Mr. Tendulkar’s tax returns, there can be no question of Mr. Tendulkar having engaged in any of the practices quoted in your email.”
He added: “We reiterate that the investment by Mr. Tendulkar has been legitimately made through banking channels from India and has been declared to the income tax authorities. Further, the amount of Rs 60 crore as quoted by you is grossly incorrect, but regardless, all amounts received by Mr. Tendulkar on liquidation of the investment have also been declared in his tax returns.”
“We would once again request you to ensure that neither The Indian Express nor the ICIJ attributes or alleges any improper or illegal motives to Mr. Tendulkar’s legitimate investments,” he added.