Pandora Papers: Major leak allegedly links politicians and celebs to secret wealth

Jordan's King Abdullah II (left) and Czech PM Andrej Babis. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A massive leak of financial documents was published by several major news organisations on Sunday (Oct 3) that allegedly tie world leaders to secret stores of wealth, including King Abdullah of Jordan, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The dump of more than 11.9 million records, amounting to about 2.94 terabytes of data, came five years after the leak known as the Panama Papers exposed how money was hidden by the wealthy in ways that law enforcement agencies could not detect.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Washington-based network of reporters and media organisations, said the files are linked to about 35 current and former national leaders, and more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories.

It did not say how the files were obtained, and Reuters could not independently verify the allegations or documents detailed by the consortium.

India said it would investigate cases linked to the data dump, known collectively as the "Pandora Papers", while Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said officials named in the documents would be investigated - including himself.

The Kremlin said it had seen no evidence in the leak of hidden wealth among Russian President Vladimir Putin's entourage, after the Washington Post said the documents showed Putin's mistress had used offshore funds to buy a flat in Monaco.

Jordan's King Abdullah, a close ally of the United States, was alleged to have used offshore accounts to spend more than US$100 million (S$136 million) on luxury homes in the United Kingdom and the US.

The use of off-shore companies is not illegal or by itself evidence of wrongdoing, but news organisations in the consortium said such transactions could be used to hide wealth from tax collectors and other authorities.

DLA Piper, a London law office representing King Abdullah, told the consortium of media outlets that he had "not at any point misused public monies or made any use whatsoever of the proceeds of aid or assistance intended for public use".

The Washington Post, which is part of the consortium, also reported on the case of Ms Svetlana Krivonogikh, a Russian woman who it said became the owner of a Monaco apartment through an offshore company incorporated on the Caribbean island of Tortola in April 2003 just weeks after she gave birth to a girl.

At the time, she was in a secret, years-long relationship with Mr Putin, the newspaper said, citing Russian investigative outlet Proekt.

The Post said Krivonogikh and her daughter, who is now 18, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Kremlin said it had seen no evidence in the leak of hidden wealth among Putin's inner circle.

"For now it is just not clear what this information is and what it is about," spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Asked about Putin's alleged relationship with Krivonogikh in November, Peskov said he had never heard of her.

Days ahead of the Czech Republic's Oct 8-9 parliamentary election, the documents allegedly tied the country's prime minister, Mr Babis, to a secret US$22 million estate in a hilltop village near Cannes, France.

Speaking during a television debate on Sunday, Mr Babis denied any wrongdoing.

"The money left a Czech bank, was taxed, it was my money, and returned to a Czech bank," he said.

Lebanon's former prime minister Hassan Diab said he had given up shares in a company he was linked to in the leak, and denied wrongdoing.

A statement by his office said he had taken part in founding the company in 2015 and owned 17 shares, but that the firm had no activity since then and he had resigned and sold his stake.

The Indian Express, part of the consortium, said the documents showed that businessman Anil Ambani and his representatives owned at least 18 offshore companies in Jersey, the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus.

Set up between 2007 and 2010, seven of these companies had borrowed and invested at least US$1.3 billion, the report said.

In 2020, following a dispute with three Chinese state-controlled banks, Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, had told a London court his net worth was zero.

Ambani did not immediately respond to a Reuters request seeking comment.

An unidentified lawyer, on behalf of Ambani, told the Express: "Our client is a tax resident of India and has made disclosures to Indian authorities as required to be made in compliance with law. All required considerations were taken into account when making disclosures before the London court. The Reliance Group conducts business globally and for legitimate business and regulatory requirements, companies are incorporated in different jurisdictions."

India's Finance Ministry said it would investigate cases linked to the Pandora Papers and take appropriate action, adding: "The government will also proactively engage with foreign jurisdictions for obtaining information in respect of relevant taxpayers/entities."

Pakistan's opposition called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to order cabinet ministers and aides named in the leak to resign and face investigation.

Finance minister Tarin, among the Pakistanis identified, told Geo TV everyone would be investigated, including himself.

He denied wrongdoing.

"If any wrongdoing is established we will take appropriate action," Khan said on Twitter.

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