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Uhuru on Pandora Papers: I’ll respond comprehensively

NAIROBI, Kenya Oct 4 – President Uhuru Kenyatta has welcomed the “Pandora Papers” investigation on offshore accounts in which he is named as a beneficiary of billions of shillings allegedly stashed by his family, saying it will enhance accountability.

He did not however, directly respond to allegations in the trove of files detailing how the Kenyatta family has stashed up to Sh3 billion shillings in secret offshore accounts through a network of companies.

“The Pandora Papers and subsequent follow up audits will lift that veil of secrecy and darkness for those who can not explain their assets or wealth,” President Kenyatta said, adding, “That these reports will go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe. The movement of illicit funds, proceeds of crime and corruption thrive in an environment of secrecy and darkness.”

He pledged to respond comprehensively once he is back from his State Visit to the Americas.

The investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) show revealed that more than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Kenyan investigative journalist John Allan Namu who is part of the consortium said he sought a comment from President Kenyatta and his family during the investigation but no response was forthcoming.

The so-called “Pandora Papers” investigation — involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian — is based on the leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

Some 35 current and former leaders are featured in the latest vast trove of documents analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — facing allegations ranging from corruption to money laundering and global tax avoidance.

In most countries, the ICIJ stresses, it is not illegal to have assets offshore or to use shell companies to do business across national borders.

But such revelations are no less of an embarrassment for leaders who may have campaigned publicly against tax avoidance and corruption, or advocated austerity measures at home.

Czech Prime minister Andrej Babis — who faces an election later this week — failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth $22 million in the south of France, according to the ‘Pandora Papers’ © AFP/File / ATTILA KISBENEDEK

The documents notably expose how Jordan’s King Abdullah II created a network of offshore companies and tax havens to amass a $100 million property empire from Malibu, California to Washington and London.

The Jordanian embassy in Washington declined to comment, but the BBC cited lawyers for the king saying all the properties were bought with personal wealth, and that it was common practice for high profile individuals to purchase properties via offshore companies for privacy and security reasons.

Family and associates of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev — long accused of corruption in the central Asian nation — are alleged to have been secretly involved in property deals in Britain worth hundreds of millions.

And the documents also show how Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis — who faces an election later this week — failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth $22 million in the south of France.

“I have never done anything illegal or wrong,” Babis hit back in a tweet, calling the revelations a smear attempt aimed at influencing the election.

– Tony Blair and Shakira –

Some 35 current and former leaders are featured in leaked financial documents analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) © AFP/File / Jim Watson

In total, the ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including more than a dozen serving heads of state and government, country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others.

More than two-thirds of the companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.

Nearly two million of the 11.9 million leaked documents came from prestigious Panamanian law firm Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal), which the ICJ said had become “a magnet for the rich and powerful from Latin America and beyond seeking to hide wealth offshore.”

Alcogal, whose clients allegedly included the Jordanian monarch and Czech prime minister, rejected accusations of shady dealings, saying it was considering legal action to defend its reputation.

“I guess it mostly demonstrates that the people that could end the secrecy of offshore, could end what’s going on, are themselves benefiting from it,” the ICIJ’s director Gerard Ryle said in a video accompanying the investigation.

“We’re looking at trillions of dollars.”

For Maira Martini, a policy expert with Transparency International, the latest investigation once more offers “clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption and financial crime, while obstructing justice.”

“This business model cannot go on,” she said.

Among the other revelations from the ICIJ investigation:

— Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has been critical of tax loopholes, is shown to have legally avoided paying stamp duty on a multi-million-pound property in London when he and his wife Cherie bought the offshore company that owned it.

— Members of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers and their families, are said to secretly own companies and trusts holding millions of dollars. In a series of tweets, Khan vowed to “take appropriate action” if any wrongdoing by Pakistani citizens is established.

— Vladimir Putin is not directly named in the files, but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco, notably a waterfront home acquired by a Russian woman believed to have had a child with the Russian leader, The Washington Post reports.

The public figures exposed by the ‘Pandora Papers’ included the Colombian singer Shakira– whose lawyers said her offshore assets were legitimate © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / TOM PENNINGTON

— As well as politicians, the public figures exposed included the Colombian singer Shakira, the German supermodel Claudia Schiffer and the Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Representatives for all three told the ICIJ the investments were legitimate and denied tax avoidance.

The “Pandora Papers” are the latest in a series of mass ICIJ leaks of financial documents, from LuxLeaks in 2014, to the 2016 Panama Papers — which triggered the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and paved the way for the leader of Pakistan to be ousted.

They were followed by the Paradise Papers in 2017 and FinCen files in 2020.

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