The secret offshore wealth of more than 300 world leaders, politicians and billionaires has been exposed in one of the biggest ever leaks of financial data.
Dubbed the Pandora Papers, the documents show how 35 current and former world leaders – including associates of Vladimir Putin – used accounts in tax havens to accrue huge amounts of wealth and carry out transactions.
The files consist of 12 million documents from 14 financial services companies in countries including the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Switzerland.
They were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) before being studied by more than 650 reporters from BBC Panorama, the Guardian and other news outlets.
They reveal that former British prime minister Mr Blair and his wife Cherie saved some $434,000 (£321,000) in stamp duty when they bought an office in London by purchasing the offshore company that owned it.
Meanwhile Russian President Mr Putin was linked to secret assets in Monaco, while an offshore company owned by his alleged lover purchased a $4.1million apartment below the principality’s casino.
The luxury fourth-floor flat was purchased by Brockville Development Ltd, which was eventually traced back to Svetlana Krivonogikh, reported the Guardian.
The woman, who was 28 at the time, is said by Russian investigative outlet Proekt to be the mother of Putin’s child, after giving birth to Elizaveta, or Luiza, in March of the same year.
Since becoming friends with Putin, the former cleaner seems to have amassed a luxury portfolio of assets, including a flat in a well-to-do area of St Petersburg, other properties in Moscow and a yacht, coming to a total of $100million – the Kremlin has refused to comment.
Meanwhile, the King of Jordan was able to secretly add £70million worth of property to his portfolios in the UK and US – mainly in Malibu, California and in London and Ascot, the papers showed.
A luxury fourth-floor flat below Monaco’s casino was bought by Brockville Development Ltd, which was eventually traced back to Svetlana Krivonogikh (pictured), alleged to be a lover of Mr Putin and the mother of his child
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family and close associates snapped up more than £400million worth of property in the UK using offshore accounts, the papers revealed.
Dubbed the Pandora Papers, the documents show how Tony (pictured) and Cherie Blair avoided paying stamp duty on their purchase of an office in London. The transaction was not illegal.
While many of the transactions – made by tens of thousands of different offshore firms -feature no legal wrongdoing, they expose how the UK Government has failed in its promise to bring in a register of offshore property owners.
There are concerns that some of the purchases could be the work of money laundering – while some of those named now face allegations of corruption and global tax avoidance.
The release of the documents could not have come at a worse time for Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis – who is facing an election later this week – as they show how he failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase two villas for $16.2million in the south of France.
The papers follow four other huge data leaks in the past seven years – including the FinCen Files, the Paradise Papers, Panama Papers and LuxLeaks.
They also show how some 95,000 offshore firms were legally set up to secretly by property in Britain.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) was linked to secret assets in Monaco by the Pandora Papers
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family and close associates snapped up more than $500million (£400million) worth of property in the UK, the papers revealed.
They also appeared to have made a tidy $41.9million (£31million) profit after selling a London property to the Queen’s Crown Estate, which is managed by the Treasury.
Fergus Shiel, from the ICIJ, said: ‘There’s never been anything on this scale and it shows the reality of what offshore companies can offer to help people hide dodgy cash or avoid tax.’
He added: ‘They are using those offshore accounts, those offshore trusts, to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of property in other countries, and to enrich their own families, at the expense of their citizens.’
Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, added: ‘These revelations should act as a wake up call for the Government and regulators to deliver on much-needed and 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.
‘Once again Britain’s role as an enabler of global corruption and money laundering have been exposed with the same loopholes exploited to funnel suspect wealth into the country.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis (pictured ) failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase two villas for £12million in the south of France
‘Not only does this damage the UK’s reputation as a country governed by the rule of law, but it enriches corrupt elites around the world at the expense of their populations. No one benefits from this system but them.
‘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.’
While the Blairs’ purchase of the London office was not illegal, its revelation comes after the former Labour leader has been critical of tax loopholes.
The property is now used by Mrs Blair’s legal consultancy firm Omnia Strategy and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
Mrs Blair said the sellers had insisted they buy the house through the offshore company, reported the BBC, and that they would be liable to pay capital gains tax should they go on to sell it.
It was purchased from a family with political connections in Bahrain. Both sides maintain they did not initially know who was involved in the deal.
Elsewhere, lawyers for King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein said the leaked property purchases in the UK and US were bought with personal wealth, adding that using offshore companies to carry out such transactions was common practice for high profile individuals, citing privacy and security concerns.
The papers show Mr Al-Hussein bought 15 homes since coming to power in 1999, using offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens.
It comes as he has been accused of running an authoritarian regime, which has seen a rise in protests in recent years over tax hikes and austerity measures.
A string of other world leaders have also been named in the Pandora Papers leak – which owes its name to the fact that it will be ‘opening a box on a lot of things’, according to the ICIJ.
They include president of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and six of his family members, who were revealed to secretly own 11 offshore companies containing $30million worth of assets.
Meanwhile the prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan’s cabinet ministers and their families were shown to own millions of dollars worth of offshore companies.
And the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky was shown to have moved his stake in a secret offshore company just before his victory in the 2019 election.