If 2021 has an international burn book, it’s the Pandora Papers, a two-year-long investigative exposé conducted by more than 600 journalists worldwide, otherwise known as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Unlike some other famed documents revealing the corruption encouraged by the world’s most prominent power players, this specific collection of 12 million confidential files centers on the financial secrets—luxury property machinations—of global political leaders. Everyone from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appear in the report. Indeed, the Pandora Papers extend far beyond these public officials and heads of state; the Papers span their entire inner circle.
For instance, St. Petersburg native Svetlana Krivonogikh, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged mistress, boasts a net worth of around $100 million courtesy of offshore shell companies. Not to mention the 46-year-old Russian’s impressive real estate portfolio, which includes luxury apartments in Monte Carlo and St. Petersburg. The thing is, though, hidden offshore accounts and money protected in real estate aren’t limited to countries and territories with sometimes controversial banking laws like small islands in the Caribbean and banking centers in Zurich. Plenty of people hide their millions in highly regulated places. The Pandora Papers revealed that Jordanian King Abdullah II had bought a whopping 14 homes, all of which are worth more than $100 million, in both the U.K. and U.S., through entities organized and operated by another organization. Four of his homes are highly coveted multimillion-dollar clifftop bungalows in Malibu, California.
Hardly anyone is immune to the temptation of avoiding taxes these days. Even Tony Blair, who served as prime minister from 1997 to 2007 and owns a £30 million property portfolio, has found a few barely legal loopholes to avoid paying what he owes. In 2017, he and his wife purchased a historic London town house and sneakily figured out how to skip out on a £312,000 stamp duty—an English tax on property purchases. Here’s how: The town house was owned by an offshore firm, and the Blairs decided to create an English company that would eventually purchase that offshore firm, which is legal. However, buying the home in this specific way afforded the Blairs to avoid paying that steep stamp duty, which is not legal.
Though there are myriad fake organizations and offshore bank accounts that help not so dignified dignitaries hide their wealth, the amount of under-the-radar real estate is unprecedented, and there’s no telling how deep the hooks go.