The world once again got a glimpse into the shady activities of mega-thieves and those that enable them to stash away huge sums of money into “offshore” accounts.
Conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the investigations make startling revelations.
Known as the Pandora Papers, a treasure-trove of more than 11.9 million documents reveals how money is moved around the world into properties and other assets concealed in the offshore financial system.
What has emerged is not only the names of 338 politicians, monarchs and ministers, both former and current, that own properties worldwide through shell companies but also those who facilitate such illegal activities.
The British capital, London seems to be a destiny of choice for parking money in expensive properties.
Who is not aware of Avenfield flats in Mayfair, London, owned by Nawaz Sharif, the former Pakistani prime minister, and his equally thieving sons?
Most properties are within earshot of the British parliament!
Zardari and combine own Surrey Estates in England.
These are mere tips of the iceberg.
The Pandora Papers focus mainly on politicians and tycoons from the third world.
Not naming American or British politicians appears to be a deliberate attempt to keep the focus on third world politicians as if they are the only crooks in the world.
What the ICIJ investigations reveal is that several states in the United States have emerged as willing accomplices in this grand larceny.
Delaware (yes, you guessed it right, the home state of President Joe Biden) has always been known for its lax tax laws.
The Pandora Papers have also highlighted South Dakota as another destination of choice for parking ill-gotten wealth.
South Dakota-based trust companies are responsible for hiding some $360 billion in assets of billionaires, oligarchs and their relatives.
These are not small sums, by any stretch.
While successive US regimes and their Western allies have made much fuss about money laundering, their own institutions are in the forefront of facilitating such corruption.
The Pandora Papers expose how money and other assets have been moved from international tax havens to even more secretive American trust companies, including those in South Dakota.
The records also show how a firm in Central America became a one-stop shop for American clients, allowing them to conceal their assets while facing criminal investigations or lawsuits.
Two separate aspects are involved.
First, political leaders, tycoons etc, shield their ill-gotten wealth from scrutiny by hiding it in off-shore companies.
This way, they present themselves as being ‘clean’ and ‘honest’.
Second, they do not pay tax on such wealth.
Among those names by the Pandora Papers include King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, members of the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and several cabinet ministers in Pakistan.
Some countries, including Australia, Britain and Pakistan have vowed to investigate the revelations.
The Kremlin rejected the allegations saying the materials did not prove that members of President Putin’s inner circle stashed assets in overseas tax havens.
Similar denials were issued by the Czech prime minister saying he had done nothing “illegal or wrong”.
The Jordanian royal family also issued a statement on October 4 that luxury real estate in the United States and Britain was paid for with the monarch’s personal fortune and not by public funds.
The name of US law firm Baker McKenzie has also emerged in the investigations.
With 4,700 lawyers in 46 countries and revenue of $3.1 billion, Baker McKenzie bills itself as “the original global law firm.’’
With its tentacles spread worldwide (together with British law firms), it is among a dozen firms that operates large international networks.
Baker McKenzie is an architect and pillar of a shadow economy, often called “offshore,” that benefits the wealthy at the expense of nations’ treasuries and ordinary citizens’ wallets.
Leaked documents reveal that the law firm helped arrange shell companies in Cyprus for food and tobacco giant RJR Nabisco.
For Nike, it helped set up a Dutch tax shelter.
According to a US government court brief, its lawyers helped Facebook route billions of dollars in profits to low-tax Ireland.
Baker McKenzie says it is committed to the rule of law and the highest international standards for ethics, human rights, and anti-corruption policies.
“We are truthful and transparent,” the firm says in its code of business conduct.
“We don’t do business with disreputable characters.”
Baker McKenzie is to “offshore” money laundering what Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, is to sleaze in politics.