We're learning more about the tax avoidance schemes of the uber-rich courtesy of the Pandora Papers, published Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which are putting Jordan's King Abdullah II in a particularly bad light. The longest-serving monarch in the Arab world, who's ruled Jordan since the death of his father in 1999, owned at least three dozen front companies in secretive tax havens, used to purchase 14 homes worth more than $106 million from 2003 to 2017, amid widespread economic hardships in Jordan, per the AP. More on the revelations and backlash:
- The purchases: King Abdullah II secretly owned three companies in the British Virgin Islands that separately purchased three side-by-side clifftop mansions in Malibu, Calif., for a total of $68 million, from 2014 to 2017, reports the BBC. It adds the king's identity remained secret even after the passage of a 2017 law that required the owners of all BVI companies be identified on an internal government register.
- Poor timing: Most of the real estate deals in the US and UK came after 2011, when Arab Spring protests against government corruption and economic hardships "posed the first serious threat to the Jordanian monarchy in generations," according to the ICIJ.
- Hardships at home: One in four Jordanians were unemployed in 2020, per the Guardian. "It's just very, very difficult for the average Jordanian to achieve a basic level of home and family, and a good job," Middle East analyst Annelle Sheline tells the BBC. "To have it really thrown in Jordanians' faces that [the king has] just been funneling money abroad all this time ... would look really bad."
- International aid: Sheline tells ICIJ that the king's purchases should also "piss off Western donors who have given him money." The ICIJ notes Jordan "depends on foreign aid to support its own people and to house and care for millions of refugees." It receives billions of dollars in aid from the international community each year. Last year, the US contributed more than $1.5 billion in aid and military funding.
- Critic detained: Jordanian authorities acted quickly to stifle rumors about Abdullah's holdings in October 2019, with the arrest of a Ministry of Justice employee and independent researcher who was investigating state property registered to Abdullah. Moayyad al-Majali's electronic devices were seized under accusations of "inciting strife" and slandering the king, according to Human Rights Watch. He was ultimately fined, per the Guardian.
- The defense: The king, lately the subject of a scandal involving allegations of corruption by his own half brother, said Monday that no public funds were used in the purchases. Jordan's royal court claimed the properties, used for private and official visits and to host foreign dignitaries, were only kept quiet "out of security and privacy concerns," per AFP. The leak is a "flagrant security breach and a threat to His Majesty's and his family's safety," the statement adds.
- Lawyers say he's charitable: Abdullah's lawyers add the king isn't required to pay taxes under Jordanian law, but that he gives a "significant percentage" of his personal wealth to charitable causes in keeping with his "vision towards achieving an equitable society," per the Guardian. They note his personal wealth comes "not from public monies, rather from personal sources."
- ICIJ is blocked: Meanwhile, the monarch appears to be doing his best to block coverage of the leak. The ICIJ website was blocked in Jordan hours before the Pandora Papers were shared, per the Guardian. The AP notes "Jordanian media, much of which is directly or indirectly controlled by the palace, made no mention" of the reported purchases.
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