'Pandora Papers': Jordan's King Says Luxury Homes Were Kept Hidden for Security Reasons

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Jordan's King Abdullah II listens during a meeting in Amman, Jordan, in May.
Jordan's King Abdullah II listens during a meeting in Amman, Jordan, in May.Credit: POOL New/ REUTERS

Jordan's King Abdullah II said the claims made against him in media reports on the "Pandora Papers" – a leak of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 offshore companies around the world released on Sunday – are "inaccurate and distorted."

A Monday statement from the Royal Hashemite Court argued the properties King Abdullah owns in the United States and Britain were not a secret, adding privacy and security reasons were behind not disclosing it.

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In a massive leak of financial documents published on Sunday, King Abdullah, a close ally of the United States, was alleged to have used offshore accounts to spend more than $100 million on luxury homes in the United Kingdom and the United States.

"It is no secret that His Majesty owns a number of apartments and residences in the United States and the United Kingdom," the statement said.

"This is not unusual nor improper… To this end, companies were registered in external jurisdictions to manage and administer the properties and to ensure strict compliance with all relevant legal and financial obligations."

But in a sign the Royal Palace was concerned by the report of the purchases, Jordanian media, much of which is directly or indirectly controlled by the palace, made no mention of it. Even independent Jordanian media outlets engage in self-censorship, avoiding criticism of the king, the royal family and the security forces.

The royal court's statement stressed the properties were all paid for "personally" by the king, adding: "Any allegations that link these private properties to public funds or assistance are baseless and deliberate attempts to distort facts."

Jordan's economy has struggled during Abdullah's two-decade reign, hit recently by an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring Syria as well as the coronavirus crisis. Jordan has received billions of dollars in aid from the international community over the years to help stabilize its foundering economy.

"All public finances and international assistance are subject to professional audits, and their allocations are fully accounted for by the government and donor entities," the royal court argued, amid speculation that Abdullah funneled international donations or public funds into offshore accounts.

The report could potentially affect Jordan's relations with the community of international donor nations that have assisted his government.

It came Sunday as Abdullah was hosting the president of the World Bank, who was on an official visit to discuss the kingdom's economy. Earlier this year, the World Bank announced a $1.1 billion package of loans and grants to assist Jordan in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. The health crisis has sent unemployment spiking to roughly 25 percent, according to official figures.

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 $106 million in the U.S. and the U.K. One was a $23 million California ocean-view property bought in 2017 through a British Virgin Islands company. The advisers were identified as an English accountant in Switzerland and lawyers in the British Virgin Islands.

The details are an embarrassing blow to 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,” placed his half brother under house arrest and put two former close aides on trial.

Abdullah took power in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hussein.

Alongside Abdullah, hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers were revealed to have been hiding their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets for the past quarter-century, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world.

The report released Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists involved 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries. It’s being dubbed the “Pandora Papers” because the findings shed light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite and the corrupt, and how they have used offshore accounts to shield assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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