Moscow finds Pandora Papers a collection of obscure unfounded statements

Pandora Papers do not open Pandora's Box for Moscow

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has published the Pandora Papers  report about the alleged involvement of world leaders, their associates, officials and businessmen in offshore schemes.

More than 600 journalists from 150 media organizations, including the BBC (the UK), The Washington Post (the United States), Le Monde (France) and others. It took the journalists two years to study the Pandora Archive - 11.9 million confidential documents that were in the possession of the ICIJ. They called this offshore data leak the largest in history.

Pandora Papers and Russia 

The offshore of Channel One CEO Konstantin Ernst as a reward for organizing coverage of the 2014 Olympics received a share in a project to buy old Soviet cinemas from the state, demolish them and build private shopping and residential complexes in their place, The Washington Post wrote. 

Ernst confirmed to the publication that he was involved in the deal, but refused to acknowledge that it was a compensation for the 2014 Olympic Games. He did not answer other questions from the journalists, and only said that he did not commit any illegal actions.

German Gref, the head of Russia's largest state-owned Sberbank, held more than $ 50 million in family offshores in Singapore, Panama and Samoa. Angelus Trust offshore was established in 2011 and has already been abolished. 

Svetlana Krivonogikh, a shareholder of Bank Rossiya, owns an offshore apartment in Monaco, which in 2003 cost $4.1 million. 
The family of the head of Russian Technologies state corporation (Rostec), Sergei Chemezov, owns property worth 22 billion rubles through offshores, the investigation claims. This includes the  85-meter-long Valerie yacht owned by British Virgin Islands company Delima Services Limited. The offshore is registered with Chemezov's 34-year-old stepdaughter, Anastasia Ignatova. Such a yacht is worth about $140 million. at the current rate. In addition, the family, through offshores as well, as investigators say, owns a villa in the Spanish town of Estepona near the resort of Marbella. The villa is owned by the Irish company Holytown Limited, which was bought by Penimar Holdings Limited from the British Virgin Islands in 2014, which, in turn, is owned by Anastasia Ignatova and Lyudmila Rukavishnikova, the report says. The family also owns a share in the company that owns a hotel in the Croatian resort of Malinska, the authors of the investigation write.

Foreign politicians and celebrities 

The family of President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, owned real estate in London worth a total of $694 million through 84 offshore companies. Offshore companies were also registered with the president's children, who at that time were school and university students. According to the report, even after the 2015 crisis, when the Aliyevs were selling real estate and closing companies, part of the assets, in particular real estate in London worth $191 million, was registered with the president's father-in-law, Arif Pashayev, on a trust registered on the Isle of Man.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may still profit from a stake in offshore companies, which he delivered to his business partner and friend Sergei Shefir, who subsequently became Zelensky's aide. The Pandora Papers claim that the companies of ex-partners entered into an agreement, under which offshore continues to pay dividend to the company owned by Zelensky's wife. Zelensky and his wife owned a quarter at Maltex Multicapital Corp. in the British Virgin Islands through the Belize-based Film Heritage. During the 2019 election campaign, Zelensky transferred this share to Shefir, the report claims. Later, the companies of Zelensky and Shefir entered into an agreement, under which Maltex was to pay dividend to Film Heritage. The declaration of Zelensky's wife indicated that since 2019 she had been the only beneficiary of Film Heritage. Zelensky did not mention Maltex in his declarations, including in 2018, when he owned 25% of the company. In addition, the Pandora Archive documents partially confirm the accusations of offshore fraud leveled against Zelenskiy during the elections. 

The ICIJ also claims that Zelensky's partners, with the help of offshore companies, bought three apartments in London in 2014-2016. Shefir bought two apartments for £3.8 million ($5.1 million), while another co-founder of Kvartal 95, Andrei Yakovlev, bought an apartment for about £1.5 million ($2 million).

Asel Kurmanbaeva, a citizen of Kazakhstan, whom the investigators associate with Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's first president, received $30 million as a result of a share swap with the participation of six offshore companies. Five of them were registered in the British Virgin Islands. The scheme also involved entrepreneurs (ICIJ calls them oligarchs) Vladimir Ni (he passed away in 2010) and Vladimir Kim, who made their fortunes during the privatization of the 1990s. 

Kurmanbaeva, through offshore company Ladra Services, became a co-owner of EMES Holding & Finance, in which Vladimir Ni also participated. Vladimir Kim participated in the execution of transactions with companies shares. Two months after Ni's death, another offshore company paid Nazarbayev’s probable girlfriend $30 million for Ladra Services, although the firm did not conduct any real business activities.

Czech Prime Minister Andrei Babis used €15 million transferred between his offshores to buy real estate in France, including a castle on the Cote d'Azur. In addition, contrary to the law, he did not declare the offshore, through which he transferred the money assets, the Pandora Papers say. 

King Abdullah II of Jordan, as evidenced in the documents, owns numerous properties around the world - in California, Washington, London - with a total value of $100 million, The Guardian wrote. In particular, through a network of offshore companies, the king owns a 26-room villa on the coast of Malibu, California. It became the property of the monarch in 2014 for $33.5 million, which was the most expensive property in the area. Two years earlier, he also bought three condominiums in Washington worth $13.8 million.

In London, the king of Jordan, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, has seven properties, including three in the elite area of ​​Belgravia.

Among the Panama Papers, there is a 2017 memorandum prepared by two managers of the Panamanian law firm Alcogal, which states that a client from Jordan named Abdullah Al Hussein, born January 30, 1962 (date of birth of the king), residing in Ragadan Palace (the royal family palace) was the beneficiary of 16 companies that have various assets in the United States, Great Britain and the British island of Jersey.

Interestingly, a few hours before publication, access to the ICIJ website in Jordan was blocked.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie Blair became the owners of high-value real estate through the purchase of an offshore company, which allowed them to save 312,000 pounds in taxes, the Pandora Papers say, The Guardian reports. Blair served the country's prime minister from the Labor Party from 1997 to 2007.

The four-story building in London's Marylebone came into the possession of the couple in 2017, where Cherie Blair housed her firm Omnia Consulting. However, it was not the building that was purchased, but an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands – for £6.5 million. Four months before the deal, the Blairs registered Harcourt Ventures in the UK, in which each of the spouses had 50%. This company bought the shares in Romanstone owned by the Alzani family, one of the members of which is a Bahraini government minister. It was this company that owned the building. After the deal, the Blairs liquidated Romanstone, so the building was owned by a British company that they had registered. Cherie Blair told The Guardian that there was nothing unusual about the deal she and her husband had made. Indeed, the spouses did not break the law, but used a loophole in it that allowed them to save money, the newspaper said. 

According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, which became the Spanish-speaking partner of the investigation, at least 14 heads of Latin American states used offshore schemes: three current leaders (the President of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, the President of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader and the President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso) - and 11 former ones. 

Moscow reacts to Pandora Papers

Kremlin's official spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on the publication of the largest leak of offshore documents, the Pandora Archive, which, among many other people, include people from Vladimir Putin's team. 

The Kremlin did not see real evidence in the publications nor did it consider them a reason for any investigations, Peskov said. 

“We did not see hidden riches there. So far, we have not seen anything special. The only thing that really catches attention is the demonstration of which state has the largest gaps - this is the United States ... So far, it goes about unfounded statements. This, of course, is not a reason for investigations,” Peskov said.

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