A major Conservative party donor is among dozens of the world’s richest and most powerful people to have amassed millions in secret offshore assets, according to an investigation into one of the biggest leaks of financial documents.
Mohamed Amersi, who funded Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, was involved in one of Europe’s biggest corruption scandals after a controversial $220m (£162m) payment to a secretive offshore company in 2010, according to the leaked documents that were investigated by a global consortium of journalists.
The papers reveal that prominent and wealthy people have been legally setting up companies to secretly buy property in the UK.
Duncan Hames, policy director at the campaign group Transparency International UK, said the disclosures should act as a “wake up call” for the Government to deliver on long-overdue measures to strengthen Britain’s defences.
He said the leaks show that there is one system for “elites who can buy access to prime property and enjoy luxury lifestyles and another for honest hard-working people.”
Mr Hames called for the UK to bring in “long overdue transparency reforms to reveal who really owns property here as well as resourcing regulators and law enforcement to clamp down.”
The files are dubbed the Pandora Papers, because the findings shed a light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite. Hundreds of world leaders, government officials, celebrities and drug dealers have been found to use offshore accounts to shield assets including mansions and yachts collectively worth trillions of dollars.
Here are some of the powerful politicians and billionaires implicated in the investigation:
Mr Amersi, who has donated nearly £525,000 to the Tories since 2018, advised a Swedish telecoms company on a complex transaction that was later fined in the US, after it was accepted as a “corrupt payment” to the powerful first daughter of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian ruler.
The 61-year-old is a corporate lawyer who worked as a consultant for the telecoms multinational, Telia, between 2007 and 2013.
His lawyers told The Guardian that any suggestion he “knowingly” facilitated corrupt payments was false and that the underlying arrangements for the deal had been put in place two years before.
He had only worked on the project for six weeks and had “no reason” to believe it might be a bribe, the lawyers added.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie avoided paying £312,000 in stamp duty on an £6.75m luxury central London office building in 2017, after they bought a British Virgin Islands company that owned the property.
They bought the company from the family of Bahrain’s industry and tourism minister, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani, and the Marylebone townhouse now hosts Ms Blair’s law firm.
Buying the company shares instead of the building saved the Blairs more than $400,000 in property taxes, the investigation found. Their actions were not illegal.
A spokeswoman for the Blairs said the property was bought “in a normal way through reputable estate agents” and that the transactions “are all registered publicly”.
She added that they are liable for capital gains and other taxes on the resale of the property “which will significantly exceed any stamp duty”.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev
The investigation found that offshore companies linked to Mr Aliyev, his family and close associates have secretly been involved in property deals in the UK worth more than £400m.
This included a Mayfair office building in London bought in 2009 for $44.6m (£33m) by an offshore company beneficially owned by the president’s then 11-year-old son Heydar Aliyev.
The Aliyevs appear to have made a £31m profit after selling one of their London properties to the Crown Estate – the Queen’s property empire, which is managed by the Treasury.
The office block was sold to the Crown Estate for $89.3m (£66m) in 2018.
The Crown Estate has launched an internal review, according to The Guardian. A spokesperson for the estate said checks were conducted before the purchase “including those required by UK law”.
“At the time we did not establish any reason why the transaction should not proceed,” the spokesperson added. “Given the potential concerns raised, we are looking into the matter.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah
The investigation found advisers helped King Abdullah II of Jordan set up at least three dozen shell companies from 1995 to 2017, helping the monarch buy 14 homes worth more than $106m (£78m) in the UK and US.
This includes £50m on three ocean-view properties in Malibu, California. The advisers were identified as an English accountant in Switzerland and lawyers in the British Virgin Islands. He also has properties in London and Ascot.
The details are an embarrassing blow to King Abdullah, whose government was engulfed in scandal this year when his half brother, former Crown Prince Hamzah, accused the “ruling system” of corruption and incompetence.
The king claimed he was the victim of a “malicious plot” and placed his half brother under house arrest.
His UK lawyers said he is not required to pay taxes under his country’s law and has not misused public funds, adding that there are security and privacy reasons for him to have holdings through offshore companies, according to the report.
The lawyers also said most of the companies and properties are not connected to the king or no longer exist, though they declined to provide details.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Kenyata’s family secretly owned a network of offshore companies in Panama and the British Virgin Islands, one of which was valued as holding assets worth $30m (£22m), according to the investigation.
The Pandora Papers reveal that family members have used offshore companies to own three properties in the UK, including one flat near Westminster in London, now worth an estimated £1m, which was until this summer rented out to Labour MP Emma Ann Hardy.
Ms Hardy’s spokesperson said the MP had “absolutely no knowledge” of who owned the property, adding: “She is shocked at what this investigation has uncovered, and believes it shows why more transparency is urgently needed.”
The Kenyatta family have not responded to requests for comment in the investigation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Although Mr Putin was not directly named in the papers, his alleged mistress, Svetlana Krivonogikh, suddenly came into a vast fortune in 2003 and became owner of an apartment at the Monte Carlo Star worth millions, located under Monte Carlo’s famed casino.
The former cleaner, the mother of Mr Putin’s supposed 18-year-old daughter according to the Russian investigative website Proekt, bought the lavish $4m (£2.95m) apartment in Monaco through an offshore shell company in the British Virgin Islands, created weeks after she gave birth to the girl.
The Pandora Papers also reveal the president’s image-maker and chief executive of Russia’s leading TV station, Konstantin Ernst, got a discount to buy and develop Soviet-era cinemas and surrounding property in Moscow after he directed the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Mr Ernst said the deal was not secret and denied suggestions he was given special treatment.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis
Mr Babis, who faces a general election this week, is said to have put $22m (£16m) into shell companies to buy a chateau property in a hilltop village in Mougins, France, near Cannes, the investigation found.
The shell companies and chateau were not disclosed in the billionaire prime minister’s required asset declarations, according to documents.
“I was waiting for them to bring something right before the election to harm me and influence the Czech election,” he tweeted in reaction to the report.
“I have never done anything illegal or wrong, but that does not prevent them from trying to denigrate me again and influence the Czech parliamentary elections.”
His office did not respond to The Guardian’s requests for comment on his offshore companies, while he refused to talk to the BBC when they questioned him on the Czech election campaign trail.
Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso
The conservative millionaire and former banker who was voted president of Ecuador last year was operating through 14 offshore companies, mostly in Panama.
The investigation carried out by local media El Universo found he closed them after former left-wing Ecuadorian premier Rafael Correa promoted a law banning candidates from being the beneficial owners of companies located in tax havens.
The Pandora Papers revealed he replaced a Panamanian foundation that made monthly payments to his close family members with a trust based in South Dakota in the US.
Mr Lasso tweeted that he acted within the law, saying: “All my income has been declared and I have paid the corresponding taxes in Ecuador.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle
The Pakistani prime minister is not accused of owning any offshore companies, but members of his inner circle, including finance minister Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, are accused in the investigation of hiding millions in secret companies or trusts.
The Pandora Papers found Moonis Elahi, minister for water resources and a member of an influential family in Pakistani business and politics, contacted an offshore provider in Singapore about investing $33.7m (£25m).
Mr Khan tweeted that he welcomed the Pandora Papers which he said “expose the ill-gotten wealth of the elites who are being lured abroad through tax evasion and money laundering”.
He vowed that his government will look into all citizens mentioned in the documents and take action.