A new trove of documents details how the wealthy and well-connected have used shell companies to conceal real estate transactions.

Mansions, beachfront property and other real-estate assets have all been used as vehicles for hiding the wealth of powerful politicians, the ultra-wealthy and religious leaders, according to a trove of new documents.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an independent network of 280 journalists and more than 100 media organizations across more than 100 countries, has revealed hundreds of public figures who have used real estate and other assets in a manner that allows them to pay less in taxes. 

Individuals connected to real-estate activities described in the documents include a former U.K. prime minister, the current leader of the Czech Republic and the king of Jordan, according to an Associated Press review of the information. Julio Iglesias was also ensnared in the investigation.

The documents, dubbed the Pandora Papers, account for trillions of dollars of assets reported by 14 firms, and make up an even larger dataset than the Panama Papers. The Panama Papers, released in 2016 by the same group of journalists, shed light on how the world’s wealthiest people hide money from tax authorities and other entities in offshore accounts.

Tony Blair, who served as U.K. prime minister from 1997 until 2007, acquired a British Virgin Islands company that held an $8.8 million Victorian building. Because Blair bought the building directly, instead of through the company, he saved more than $400,000 in property taxes, the wire service reports. His wife’s law firm is now officed in the building.

The company that owned the Victorian building was previously owned by the family of Bahrain’s industry and tourism minister. 

Blair and Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani, the Bahrain official, both said they did not know at first that they were dealing with each other when Blair bought the company behind the property, the AP reports. 

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, up for re-election this week, is facing similar scrutiny for his purchase of a series of companies that brought a French chateau under his ownership. Babis did not disclose the companies, nor the chateau, in his mandatory asset reports.

Jordan’s leader, King Abdullah II, purchased 14 homes — including a $23 million oceanfront property in California — through more than 30 shell companies over the last few decades, the report said. 

Jordan’s Royal Palace did not immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment. His lawyers told the news organization that the king is not required to pay taxes under Jordan law. His use of offshore companies was related to security and privacy, the lawyers said.

The recently released Pandora Papers document activities that occurred primarily from 1996 through 2020, but some records date back as far as the 1970s, the report says. 

“The new data leak must be a wake-up call,” Sven Giegold, a member of the European Parliament, told the AP. “Global tax evasion fuels global inequality. We need to expand and sharpen the countermeasures now.”

Email Daniel Houston

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