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Pandora Papers: Leaks prompt investigations in some countries — and denial in others

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Pandora Papers: Leaks prompt investigations in some countries — and denial in others

Days after The Washington Post and partner news outlets published a series of stories based on the Pandora Papers, a trove of more than 11.9 million documents exposing the secretive financial dealings of the world’s elite, more than eight countries have promised investigations.

But not all of them have been as eager to look into the findings. Some governments whose nationals and politicians feature prominently in the records have instead gone the other way, doubling down on the denials, dismissing the revelations or ignoring them altogether.

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Authorities appear to have tried to curb scrutiny in some places, such as Jordan. One of the key revelations included in the documents was the more than $100 million that King Abdullah II spent on luxury homes in London, California and other locations, hiding transactions through a network of offshore accounts. Jordan, with scant resources, relies heavily on U.S. funds.

Most media outlets there avoided covering the leaks and the one that did ended up getting a swift call from Jordanian intelligence requesting that the story be removed from the site, according to the journalist who wrote it.

The royal court blasted media reports on the papers as “a threat to His Majesty’s and his family’s safety.” Its statement added that the king bought the residences with his own money, calling them neither “unusual nor improper.”

Several Russian outlets covered the leaks but the Kremlin was quick to dismiss the reports as “groundless.” Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the allegations were “hard to understand” and did not merit investigation.

The cache exposed assets stashed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, including the purchase of a waterfront apartment in Monaco by a Russian woman who reportedly had a child with the longtime leader.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which obtained the records, identified hundreds of offshore companies with 4,400 beneficial owners who were Russian — more than any other nationality. They include 46 Russian oligarchs.

Despite the evidence, however, the Kremlin has insisted that no secret riches were uncovered.

“We didn’t see any hidden wealth of Putin’s inner circle there,” Peskov said. “We haven’t seen anything special thus far.”

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, seized on the Pandora Papers to highlight reporting that South Dakota now rivals some of the world’s most notorious tax havens as a harbor for foreign money.

The Pandora Papers named 38 Ukrainian politicians — the most out of any country — but President Volodymyr Zelensky, who campaigned as an anti-corruption candidate, has yet to respond to the investigation.

The leaks disclosed that Zelensky, a former comedian, and his partners in show business owned multiple offshore companies, including at least one that was involved in the purchase of several properties in central London.

Just before his election, Zelensky transferred his stake in one of the companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to an associate who later became the president’s top aide.

An adviser to Zelensky’s chief of staff said Monday that the Ukrainian leader established the offshore network in 2012 to “protect” the income generated by him and his associates in the entertainment industry under the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych.

“Journalists have de facto confirmed the president’s absolute respect for the standards of anti-corruption legislation,” the adviser, Mykhailo Podoliak, told Agence France-Presse.

In Lebanon, the papers have fueled the belief that the ruling elite enriched themselves while the rest of the nation sank into its worst-ever economic crisis.

Six Lebanese nationals were named in the leaks, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, his predecessor and the central bank governor. But few there are convinced that the government, whose corruption and negligence led last year to a deadly explosion of ammonium nitrate at the port in Beirut, will pursue allegations of financial impropriety.

The investigation revealed that the billionaire Mikati, now one of Lebanon’s richest men, used a Panama-based company to purchase a property in Monaco for more than $10 million in 2008. He recently formed a government that is in desperate need of foreign aid.

“Not all wealth is necessarily accumulated at the expense of public interest and the needy,” he said in a statement, adding that he had disclosed his offshore assets to authorities.

The previous prime minister, Hassan Diab, also denied wrongdoing after the files showed that he set up an offshore shell company in the British Virgin Islands.

“Is founding a company against the law?” Diab said, adding that he reserved the right to sue anyone trying to defame him.

British officials have so far sought to downplay the revelations — or fired back at critics calling for further investigation.

The cache raised questions about London’s role as a global hub for tax avoidance. It also named a number of donors to the Conservative Party who have been linked to corruption schemes in other countries.

Britain’s finance minister Rishi Sunak said that the Revenue and Customs Department would review the information “to see if there is anything we can learn,” but defended Britain as having a “very strong” record when it comes to stamping out tax evasion.

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, laughed off questions about whether his party plans to return the funds from potentially corrupt donors, saying that all donations were vetted according to the rules.

“I’ll go and have a look at it if I have time,” Johnson said when asked by a reporter for comment on the Pandora Papers. He then made a dig at former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was also named in the documents.

Blair and his wife, Cherie, have defended their 2017 decision to purchase an $8.8 million townhouse through the acquisition of an offshore company that was partially owned by a Bahraini minister.

The move saved the couple from paying more than $400,000 in taxes.

Sarah Dadouch in Beirut contributed to this report.

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Pandora Papers: Leaks prompt investigations in some countries — and denial in others