Sri Lanka Probes President’s Niece Over Pandora Papers’ Claims

This photograph illustration shows the logo of Pandora Papers, in Lavau-sur-Loire, western France, on October 4, 2021. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

 

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered a probe Wednesday into his niece’s overseas wealth after she and her husband were alleged in the Pandora Papers to have millions of dollars stashed abroad.

The opposition immediately cried foul, saying that the investigation would amount to a cover-up by the Rajapaksa family which has been powerful in the island nation for decades.

Cabinet spokesman Dulles Alahapperuma said the president asked the main anti-graft body to issue a report on the assets of Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan “within one month”.

Nirupama Rajapaksa, 59, was a legislator in the previous governments of another uncle, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current prime minister, between 2004 and 2015 and was a junior minister for five years.

The couple’s names were among dozens of prominent personalities worldwide featured in roughly 11.9 million documents leaked from financial services firms that managed their wealth.

The Pandora Papers were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and released in stories by media partners including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian.

Allegations range from corruption to money laundering and tax evasion.

The ICIJ said that according to its analysis of a Nadesan trust’s financial statements, Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan had offshore holdings worth about $18 million in 2017.

In emails to Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based financial services provider, a longtime adviser of Nadesan’s put his overall wealth in 2011 at more than $160 million, the ICIJ said.

The couple declined to comment, the ICIJ said.

Holding assets offshore or using shell companies is not illegal in Sri Lanka, but it must be declared to the local tax authorities.

The government last month passed legislation granting an amnesty to tax dodgers hoping that the move will bring back wealth stashed abroad at a time when the island is facing a serious shortage of foreign exchange.

Leftist opposition legislator Anura Dissanayake said they had little faith in the latest investigation which had he said had been set up to deflect public anger.

“Investigations are a mechanism to suppress the truth and protect the guilty,” Dissanayake told AFP.

Nadesan has been indicted in a local money laundering case in 2016 along with another Rajapaksa sibling, Basil Rajapaksa, who is the current finance minister. The case is pending.

The ‘Pandora Papers’ are the latest in a series of mass leaks handled by the ICIJ, from LuxLeaks in 2014, to the 2016 Panama Papers.

They were followed by the Paradise Papers in 2017 and FinCen files in 2020.

AFP

‘Pandora Papers’ Expose Leaders’ Offshore Millions

(FILES) This file photo taken on April 25, 2019, shows an aerial view of the financial centre of Panama City. More than a dozen heads of state and government have amassed millions in secret offshore assets, according to an investigation published on October 3, 2021, by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). (Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP)

 

More than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya, and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the ICIJ media consortium.

The so-called “Pandora Papers” investigation — involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian — is based on the leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

Some 35 current and former leaders are featured in the latest vast trove of documents analysed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — facing allegations ranging from corruption to money laundering and global tax avoidance.

In most countries, the ICIJ stresses, it is not illegal to have assets offshore or to use shell companies to do business across national borders.

But such revelations are no less of an embarrassment for leaders who may have campaigned publicly against tax avoidance and corruption, or advocated austerity measures at home.

The documents notably expose how Jordan’s King Abdullah II created a network of offshore companies and tax havens to amass a $100 million property empire from Malibu, California to Washington and London.

The Jordanian embassy in Washington declined to comment, but the BBC cited lawyers for the king saying all the properties were bought with personal wealth, and that it was common practice for high profile individuals to purchase properties via offshore companies for privacy and security reasons.

Family and associates of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev — long accused of corruption in the central Asian nation — are alleged to have been secretly involved in property deals in Britain worth hundreds of millions.

And the documents also show how Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis — who faces an election later this week — failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase a chateau worth $22 million in the south of France.

“I have never done anything illegal or wrong,” Babis hit back in a tweet, calling the revelations a smear attempt aimed at influencing the election.

– Tony Blair And Shakira –

In total, the ICIJ found links between almost 1,000 companies in offshore havens and 336 high-level politicians and public officials, including more than a dozen serving heads of state and government, country leaders, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and others.

More than two-thirds of the companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.

Nearly two million of the 11.9 million leaked documents came from prestigious Panamanian law firm Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal), which the ICJ said had become “a magnet for the rich and powerful from Latin America and beyond seeking to hide wealth offshore.”

Alcogal, whose clients allegedly included the Jordanian monarch and Czech prime minister, rejected accusations of shady dealings, saying it was considering legal action to defend its reputation.

“I guess it mostly demonstrates that the people that could end the secrecy of offshore, could end what’s going on, are themselves benefiting from it,” the ICIJ’s director Gerard Ryle said in a video accompanying the investigation.

“We’re looking at trillions of dollars.”

For Maira Martini, a policy expert with Transparency International, the latest investigation once more offers “clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption and financial crime, while obstructing justice.”

“This business model cannot go on,” she said.

Among the other revelations from the ICIJ investigation:

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has been critical of tax loopholes, is shown to have legally avoided paying stamp duty on a multi-million-pound property in London when he and his wife Cherie bought the offshore company that owned it.

Members of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle, including cabinet ministers and their families, are said to secretly own companies and trusts holding millions of dollars. In a series of tweets, Khan vowed to “take appropriate action” if any wrongdoing by Pakistani citizens is established.

Vladimir Putin is not directly named in the files, but he is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco, notably a waterfront home acquired by a Russian woman believed to have had a child with the Russian leader, The Washington Post reports.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta — who has campaigned against corruption and for financial transparency — is alleged along with several family members of secretly owning a network of offshore companies.

As well as politicians, the public figures exposed included the Colombian singer Shakira, the German supermodel Claudia Schiffer and the Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Representatives for all three told the ICIJ the investments were legitimate and denied tax avoidance.

The “Pandora Papers” are the latest in a series of mass ICIJ leaks of financial documents, from LuxLeaks in 2014, to the 2016 Panama Papers — which triggered the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and paved the way for the leader of Pakistan to be ousted.

They were followed by the Paradise Papers in 2017 and FinCen files in 2020.

AFP