Trove of Documents Shows Hidden Wealth of World Leaders

Current and former leaders from throughout the world have amassed vast wealth and secret real estate holdings across the globe, hundreds of investigative journalists reported on Sunday after months of combing through millions of previously undisclosed …

Current and former leaders from throughout the world have amassed vast wealth and secret real estate holdings across the globe, hundreds of investigative journalists reported on Sunday after months of combing through millions of previously undisclosed documents.

The documents, dubbed the Pandora Papers, exposed the offshore holdings of 35 current and former country leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Jordan’s King Abdullah.

The investigation of nearly 12 million documents from 14 sources was led by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, with 650 journalists from around the world working on the project. The Washington Post, one of the news outlets that helped conduct the investigation, said the files included private emails, secret spreadsheets, clandestine contracts and other records that revealed financial schemes and who was behind them.

The documents showed that national leaders on five continents hid assets, often in other countries, with the investigation exposing more than twice as many offshore account holders as the Panama Papers, an examination five years ago by the investigative journalists of hidden financial assets at offshore entities across the world.

The new material comes from 29,000 offshore accounts at 14 separate financial-services companies operating in countries that include Switzerland, Singapore, Cyprus, Belize, the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere. Among the account owners, the Post said, are more than 130 people Forbes magazine lists as billionaires and more than 330 public officials in more than 90 countries and territories.

“Off-shore” refers to a time when remote island nations were the primary locales where people put money to shield it from government regulators, tax authorities, creditors, investigators and others.

“The offshore financial system is a problem that should concern every law-abiding person around the world,” Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI officer worked on dozens of financial-crimes cases, told the Post.

The records showed that the Jordanian ruler spent $106 million on luxury homes along the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California, Washington and other locations, while millions of dollars in property and cash were secretly held by the leaders of Kenya and the Czech Republic.

Czech leader Babis, facing an election later this week, used an offshore investment company to buy two villas in the south of France for more than $16 million, according to the records.

The records showed that a luxury waterfront apartment in Monaco is the residence of a Russian woman who reportedly had a child with Putin. The Post said representatives of Abdullah denied any impropriety or use of public funds, while none of the Kenyan, Czech or Russian leaders commented on the reports, nor did the Russian woman.

In recent years, U.S. presidents have imposed financial sanctions on oligarchs in Russia for what the U.S. Treasury has called malign activity. The Pandora Papers showed that those targeted have often made substantial efforts to evade the effects of the sanctions by shifting ownership of their assets. Nonetheless, the documents showed that the sanctions caused financial losses, including for Kremlin officials.

The documents, according to the BBC in Britain, said that Blair and his wife, Cherie, saved $421,000 in stamp duty when they bought a London office from an offshore company that owned the building.

The BBC said Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, his family and close associates have secretly bought more than $540 million worth of property in Britain.

For years, international tax havens have been a favorite of the wealthy looking to hide assets. But the Post said the Pandora Papers showed that in recent years foreign, political and corporate officials have moved some holdings to even more secret American trust companies, including in the Midwestern state of South Dakota.

Source: Voice of America

Algeria Recalls Ambassador to France as Tensions Rise

Algeria on Saturday rejected “inadmissible interference” in its affairs, hours after recalling its ambassador from Paris following comments by French President Emmanuel Macron reported by the French and Algerian media.The statement, from the Algerian p…

Algeria on Saturday rejected “inadmissible interference” in its affairs, hours after recalling its ambassador from Paris following comments by French President Emmanuel Macron reported by the French and Algerian media.

The statement, from the Algerian presidency, said it had withdrawn its ambassador following media reports of the French leader’s comments, which had not been denied.

The French daily Le Monde reported that Macron had made critical remarks about the former French colony during a meeting Thursday with descendants of figures from the war of independence.

Macron reportedly said the country was ruled by a “political-military system” and described Algeria as having an “official history” which had been “totally re-written,” the paper reported.

He said this history was “not based on truths” but “on a discourse of hatred towards France”, according to Le Monde — though he made clear that he was not referring to Algerian society as a whole but to the ruling elite.

The statement from the Algerian presidency said: “Following remarks that have not been denied, which several French sources have attributed by name to (Macron), Algeria expresses its categorical rejection of the inadmissible interference in its internal affairs.”

Macron also spoke out on current Algerian politics. His counterpart Abdelmajid Tebboune was “trapped in a system which is very tough,” the French president was quoted as saying.

“You can see that the Algerian system is tired, it has been weakened by the Hirak,” he added, referring to the pro-democracy movement which forced Tebboune’s predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in 2019 after two decades at the helm.

Visa tensions

It is the second time that Algeria has recalled an ambassador from France.

Algiers also recalled its ambassador in May 2020 after French media broadcast a documentary about the Hirak.

Saturday’s move comes amid tension over a French decision to sharply reduce the number of visas it grants to citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

France said the decision, which it announced Tuesday, had been made necessary by the former colonies’ failure to do enough to allow illegal migrants to return.

The Algerian foreign ministry summoned French ambassador Francois Gouyette on Wednesday and handed him a “formal protest” note concerning the visa ruling.

It called the visa reduction an “unfortunate act” that caused “confusion and ambiguity as to its motivation and its scope.”

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has described the French move as “unjustified.”

Tunisian President Kais Saied expressed disappointment with the decision in a telephone call with Macron on Saturday, his office said, adding that the French leader had said it could be revised.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday that the visa reduction decision was “unprecedented.”

Paris made that choice, he said, because Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia “are refusing to take back nationals who we do not want or cannot keep in France.”

The radio said Macron took the decision a month ago after failed diplomatic efforts with the three North African countries.

Source: Voice of America

Backers of Tunisian President Rally against ‘Coup’ Accusations

Thousands of supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied rallied in the capital on Sunday to show their backing for his suspension of parliament and promises to change the political system, acts his critics call a coup.The demonstration in central Tuni…

Thousands of supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied rallied in the capital on Sunday to show their backing for his suspension of parliament and promises to change the political system, acts his critics call a coup.

The demonstration in central Tunis was called in response to protests over the previous two weekends in the same location against Saied’s actions. It is expected to far outnumber those gatherings.

Demonstrators waved Tunisian flags and carried placards railing against Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that is the biggest in parliament and has acted as Saied’s main antagonist.

“We ask the president to dissolve parliament and hold accountable those who made the people suffer for a decade,” Salem Ajoudi, one of the demonstrators, said.

The president plunged Tunisia into a constitutional crisis in July by suspending the elected parliament, dismissing the prime minister and assuming executive authority.

Last month he brushed aside much of the constitution to say he could pass legislation by decree, casting into doubt Tunisia’s democratic gains since its 2011 revolution that triggered the “Arab spring” revolts across the Muslim world.

Saied’s intervention followed years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, aggravated by an impoverishing lockdown last year, a slow-starting vaccination campaign and street protests.

Many Tunisians blame those ills on a corrupt, self-interested political elite, and they see Saied, an independent elected in 2019, as a champion for ordinary people.

Among his supporters, Saied’s intervention is widely regarded as a long-overdue reset of a democratic experiment that established interests pulled off course.

“Saied is a clean president who has come to restore real democracy,” said Mongi Abdullah, a teacher from Mahdia who had come to join the rally.

While opinion polls show Saied’s moves have widespread support, his long delay in declaring a timeline out of the crisis has started to cement opposition to him.

Most of the political elite and the powerful labor union UGTT say he must start consulting more widely if he plans to amend the constitution, as he has indicated he will.

Tunisian police on Sunday arrested a member of parliament and a television presenter who have been prominent critics of Saied since July, their lawyer said. Neither the police nor army were immediately available for comment.

Source: Voice of America