Some of the world’s most powerful global figures spent their Mondays denying wrongdoing after a massive new exposé—bigger, even, than the Panama Papers—alleged that they had used secret offshore accounts to amass lucrative properties and hide their wealth.
The dump—more than 11.9 million records filling nearly 3 terabytes of data—is the biggest leak of tax haven files in history. It was leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the same network that oversaw the Panama Papers. It teamed up with more than 600 journalists at 150 media outlets worldwide, including the Washington Post, Guardian, and BBC, to conduct the investigation.
Their investigation could create a headache for more than 330 politicians and public officials in almost a hundred countries, including the leaders of 35 nations. Cabinet ministers, mayors, advisers to heads of state, generals, bank leaders, arms dealers, pop singers, star athletes, and international criminals also appear in the files, according to the ICIJ, and it says the documents reveal the secret holdings of more than 130 billionaires, including 46 Russian oligarchs.
There are both major names and key takeaways buried in this trove of files. Here are some of the big ones.
King Abdullah II
One big name making headlines is the leader of Jordan. He’s reported to have spent more than $100 million held in offshore accounts on luxury properties in both America and the U.K. His royal palace said in a statement that it’s “no secret that His Majesty owns a number of apartments and residences in the United States and the United Kingdom,” but he paid for all of them personally: “None of these expenses have been funded by the state budget or treasury.”
Meanwhile, the biggest name found in the files is probably the Russian president’s. The Washington Post reports that a Russian woman rumored to be in a decades-long secret relationship with Putin, Svetlana Krivonogikh, could have up to $100 million in “shadow wealth.” It says she used an offshore account back in 2003 to buy an apartment in Monaco, just weeks after giving birth to a daughter that might be Putin’s. The Kremlin appears to have shrugged off the report, telling Reuters it saw no reason to investigate the information.
The Guardian and BBC say former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie avoided paying almost half a million dollars’ worth of “stamp duty” (a kind of British property tax) when they bought a London townhouse in 2017 by acquiring the offshore company that owned the property. The townhouse is now the headquarters of Cherie Blair’s law firm. “It is not unusual for a commercial office building to be held in a corporate vehicle or for vendors of such property not to want to dispose of the property separately,” she told the BBC.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
Pakistan’s current prime minister is another figure caught in the investigation. The irony is that his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, was removed from power after the Panama Papers revealed his family owned millions of dollars’ worth of property and companies around the world. Khan, a former cricket superstar, was elected in 2018 on an anticorruption platform. The Pandora Papers revealed no offshore accounts in his name, but found his innermost circle has several. Khan has tweeted that his government “will investigate all our citizens mentioned in the Pandora Papers & if any wrongdoing is established we will take appropriate action.”
These files took two years to wade through
Compared to the Panama Papers, which contained 11.5 million records, but came from a single provider, the Pandora Papers were a beast to digest. The ICIJ says they came from 14 different sources in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Arabic, Korean, and other languages, each with its own methods of presenting and organizing the information—as email attachments, in spreadsheets, or scanned from paper files, while some “had no apparent system at all.”
South Dakota as an “offshore banking haven”?
Several states in America have “adopted financial secrecy laws that rival those of offshore jurisdictions,” according to the ICIJ. These rules allow foreign leaders to store their own personal wealth in the Heartland, on U.S. soil, through trusts. In the documents, South Dakota had most of these trusts that were revealed (81), with the second most showing up in Florida (37), followed by Delaware (35), Texas (24), and Nevada (14). Though super-rich Americans like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett don’t appear in the papers, the ICIJ points out that doesn’t mean American billionaires aren’t pulling shady tricks through offshore accounts, but rather that maybe they don’t need to: Tax rates in America are so low that they may not see a good reason to go through the hassle of hiding money abroad.