'Pandora Papers' link world leaders to secret wealth, including former HK leaders

Local | 4 Oct 2021 10:11 am

Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying did not declare selling HK$2.3 million worth of shares of a Japanese company during his term, according to the "Pandora Papers" investigation published Sunday by a consortium of investigative journalists.

Leung hit back saying the report is misleading. He said he was only required to make declarations for shares he directly owns, but not for subsidiaries of companies. 

The "Pandora Papers" -- involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC, The Guardian and Hong Kong's Stand News -- is based on the leak of around 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

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

The investigation revealed that Leung, during his office term, held 30 percent of shares of Cushman & Wakefield’s Japan business through two offshore companies. The shares were sold at HK$2.3 million in 2015 but the transaction was not declared by Leung.

In response to the report, Leung said he was not required to make declarations over changes in subsidiary companies under Hong Kong's declaration mechanism. He had held shares using trusts and did not exercise his decision making rights as a shareholder.

He accused the report of being misleading and that his lawyer is following up with the matter. 

Meanwhile, another former Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa, was said to have set up seven offshore companies after his office term, with one of them used to open an HSBC account that deals with around US$1 million (HK$7.79 million) of assets. Tung, along with his family members, reportedly hold up to 72 offshore company accounts.

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

The BBC cited King Abdullah's lawyers saying all the properties were bought with personal wealth, and that it was common practice for high profile individuals to purchase properties through offshore companies for privacy and security reasons.

The documents also show that Czech Prime minister Andrej Babis -- facing an election later this week -- failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth US$22 million in the south of France.

In total, the ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others.

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

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 corruption, or advocated austerity measures at home.

-- Family and associates of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are alleged to have been secretly involved in property deals in Britain worth hundreds of millions.

-- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and six family members are alleged to secretly own a network of offshore companies.

-- 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.

-- Russian President Vladimir Putin is not directly named in the files, but he is linked through associates to secret assets in Monaco.

The "Pandora Papers" are the latest in a series of mass ICIJ leaks of financial documents that started with LuxLeaks in 2014, and was followed by the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers and FinCen.

-- Reporting by AFP; Additional reporting by The Standard

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