What the Pandora Papers Tell Us About the Middle East

Published October 7th, 2021 - 11:38 GMT
The "Pandora Papers" investigation involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian is based on a leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.
This photograph illustration shows a woman's shadow cast on the logo of Pandora Papers, in Lavau-sur-Loire, western France, on October 4, 2021. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)
Highlights
The "Pandora Papers" investigation involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian is based on a leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

When the Pandora Papers dropped onto the front pages of newspapers around the world last week, many were led with corruption and wealth secrecy of leaders in the Middle East. But with the ongoing generation of stories from the leak of more than 11.9 million files (or 2.9 terabytes, including nearly 6 million PDFs and Word documents), we thought it might be a good idea to round up the key findings as they relate to countries in the region. 

The files show how the world’s elite, including 35 current and former heads of state, have used offshore companies to hide wealth and avoid paying appropriate taxes. Whilst many of the practices are often legal, they are only available to the wealthiest people on Earth. Many of the countries from where the money is taken from government funds are in great economic need. 

 Lebanon 

The revelations from the files pertaining to Lebanon probably carry the most immediate political significance considering the ongoing destruction of the Lebanese economy since 2019. Najib Mikati, the prime minister of Lebanon and charged with leading the country out of economic and social disaster, is worth approximately $2bn. . 

Mikati was reappointed to office (for a third time since 2005) on 10 September. The Pandora Papers show that he used a Panama-based company to buy property in Monaco worth $10m. 

His son, Maher, owns two companies in the British Virgin Isles which were used to buy property in central London. Maher told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who led the investigation on the leaks, that owning off-shore companies allowed for better planning of inheritance, more “flexibility” on renting, and “potential tax advantages.” 

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has been implicated by the leak. He is also currently under investigation by French authorities for potential money laundering. 

Other high-profile figures in Lebanon, including former Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Qatar 

Property in the United Kingdom has also been used to hide millions of dollars by the Qatari elite. The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and former prime minister and billionaire Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani are behind offshore accounts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The family bought properties in central London worth over $200m and applied to make them into a 17-bedroom mansion. As the properties were purchased through off-shore companies, the family avoided paying over $25m in tax to the UK government. British authorities are under fire this week after it emerged that the leasehold for the properties is owned by the Crown Estate, the Queen’s property empire run by the UK government to raise finances through taxation. 

United Arab Emirates

The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who has been the prime minister and vice president of the Emirati since 2006, owns a range of luxury properties around Europe purchased through off-shore entities in the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, the leaks reveal. 

These deals were carried out by Axiom Limited, which is partly owned by Dubai Holdings, a company Sheikh Mohammed is a major stakeholder in. 

Context

These latest leaks are the third in a wave of the release of an increasingly large number of files related to off-shore tax-havens. In 2016, the Panama Papers revealed that elites in Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and other states in the region held wealth through Mossack Fonseca, a company that provided offshore financial services. 

Later, the Paradise Papers revealed that Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II, Rami Makhlouf (thought to be the richest person in Syria), the former deputy minister for defence Khalid bin Sultan Al Saud, and a large number of major companies, including Apple, were involved in tax avoidance. 


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