Monday, October 4, 2021
Huge leak of financial documents has put the spotlight on the hidden assets of some of the world’s most powerful people.
Unsurprisingly, the Pandora Papers have hit headlines worldwide. But what’s the reporting like in some of the countries where leaders’ financial dealings have been exposed?
The Pandora Papers revealed that king Abdullah II of Jordan secretly spent more than £70m ($100m) on a property empire in the UK and US.
But stories on the leak were notably absent in Jordan where – observers say – local media censor themselves and avoid subjects that are implicitly off limits.
They were also prioritising stories about King Abdullah meeting the World Bank president, and his first phone call with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the Syrian civil war a decade ago.
The palace also put out a statement saying that it was “no secret” that the king owned a number of properties abroad.
“Any allegations that link these private properties to public funds or assistance are baseless and deliberate attempts to distort facts,” it said.
There was also deafening silence over the leak in much of the media in Kenya, where the family of President Uhuru Kenyatta were revealed to have secretly owned a network of offshore companies for decades.
The Star newspaper was leading with the story on its website, under the headline “No evidence Kenyatta’s stole state assets – Pandora Papers”. Others either did not cover it at all, or put the focus outside of Kenya.
The country’s leading daily newspaper The Nation published a story written by a news agency with the headline “Pandora Papers expose leaders’ offshore millions”, using a picture of Jordan’s king. The story included four lines about the Kenyattas. Citizen TV – the biggest TV station in Kenya – also published agency copy on its website, in which the revelations about Mr Kenyatta’s family were at the end.
The Standard and The People Daily newspapers did not publish the findings on their websites.
However, the leak was sparking a lot of conversation on social media in Kenya, with the hashtag #PandoraPapers and #client 13173 – the code name the Kenyattas were given by their asset managers – trending on Twitter.
Mr Kenyatta’s family have not yet responded to requests for comment.
The leak linked Russian President Vladimir Putin to secret assets in Monaco.
However, Russia’s main Sunday evening TV news reviews made no mention of the allegations, which were published shortly before the programmes aired.
Russian social media users have also been talking about the revelations.
However a number of media outlets steered stories away from President Putin. The state-owned Gazprom-Media’s NTV aired a brief report on the investigation on Monday morning, focusing on allegations against foreign officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Meanwhile, state news agency Tass highlighted findings related to the US being used as a tax haven,.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday called the findings “a collection of fairly groundless claims”.
The Pandora Papers revealed that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky transferred his stake in a secret offshore company just before he won the 2019 election.
Ukraine’s Slidstvo.info website published an investigation based on the data obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The English-language Kyiv Post also had the findings as its top story, with the headline: “Pandora Papers reveal offshore holdings of Zelensky.
The papers revealed that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis – who is facing an election later this week – failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase two villas for £12m in the south of France.
The findings were initially published by Investigace.cz, and then picked up by a number of media outlets, including the Pravo newspaper, which ran the story on its front page.
Mr Babis’ denial of having done anything illegal was being widely reported on Monday.
The Novinky news site also quoted opposition figure Petr Fiala as calling for answers.
“Andrej Babis must prove that he used taxed money for the transaction. If not, he has no right to be in politics and take care of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
But despite the leak being widely covered, most media focus has remained on general election coverage. It is not clear whether the leak will have an impact on the outcome of the vote.
The leak found that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers and their families, secretly own companies and trusts holding millions of dollars.
All of Pakistan’s major newspapers covered the revelations.
The leak was discussed on Pakistan’s Dunya TV talk show “Think Tank” on Sunday. The website of Dawn newspaper – the largest and oldest English-language newspaper in Pakistan – was leading on Monday with a number of stories about the Pandora Papers and the Pakistani findings.
The coverage has been met with cautious or defensive reactions from those who were named.
Mr Khan said his government would investigate all citizens mentioned in the report.
“We welcome the Pandora Papers exposing the ill-gotten wealth of elites, accumulated through tax evasion & corruption & laundered out to financial ‘havens’,” he tweeted.
Three presidents and 11 former presidents from Latin America have been mentioned in the investigation. One of them is Ecuador’s Guillermo Lasso, a former banker, who replaced a Panamanian foundation that made monthly payments to his close family with a trust based in South Dakota, in the US, in 2017.
Reacting to the revelations, Mr Lasso said all his investments, in and out of Ecuador, were legal.
The news involving the president is the main headline on the website of newspaper Expreso, but many Ecuadorean outlets have given it little or no coverage.
The website of newspaper El Universo ran the findings about the president on its front page, but it focused mainly on the revelation that Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, a star in Latin America, has a “property empire” in Florida of an estimated value of up to $120m.
The Pandora Papers showed that the law firm founded by Cyprus’s President Nicos Anastasiades appears to have provided fake owners to disguise the real owner of a series of offshore companies – a former Russian politician who had been accused of embezzlement.
The findings were given prominent coverage on many Cypriot news sites, including the Greek-language Politis and Phileleftheros.
Mr Anastasiades told local media he had “no knowledge” of what the company was claimed to have done. The law firm has denied any wrongdoing.
Other documents showed how Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family have secretly acquired UK property using offshore companies.
The files show how the family – long accused of corruption in the European nation – bought 17 properties, including a £33m office block in London for the president’s 11-year-old son, Heydar Aliyev.
The leak received little or no coverage in most of the country’s media outlets. However, the daily Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq – which is not accessible inside the country – was leading with the story on its website on Monday.
The findings related to British officials were widely reported in UK media.
The leaked documents showed how the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, bought a London property in an offshore deal that saved them £312,000 in stamp duty.
Mrs Blair said the sellers had insisted the building was sold in this way but they had brought it under UK control. She said they would be liable to pay capital gains tax if they sell it.
They also showed how prominent Conservative Party donor Mohamed Amersi worked on a series of controversial deals for a Swedish telecoms company that was later fined £700m in a US prosecution. Mr Amersi denies any wrongdoing.
The Guardian and newspapers both led with reports about the Pandora Papers on their front pages on Monday.
The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents and files exposing the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires. The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC which has led one of the the biggest ever global investigations.
More than 600 journalists from 117 countries have looked at the hidden fortunes of some of the most powerful people on the planet.