The vast trove of documents, known as the Pandora Papers, was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and examined by The Washington Post and other partner news organizations. The Post collaborated on the investigation, which involved more than 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories, the largest ever organized by the ICIJ.
In a similar but narrower 2016 ICIJ investigation known as the Panama Papers, documents from an offshore financial services provider in Panama revealed hidden wealth that ignited protests in several countries, forcing two world leaders from power. The Pandora Papers probe is based on documents from 14 providers instead of one.
Revelations about lavish, secret spending by King Abdullah II of Jordan immediately topped social media discourse there. Many Jordanians were quick to defend the king, calling the accusations defamation of the monarch. Others derided him over reports that he spent more than $100 million on properties through offshore companies at a time when aid was flowing into his country.
A law office in London representing Abdullah acknowledged his ownership of foreign properties for personal use and vigorously defended his actions. “Any implication that there is something improper about [Abdullah’s] ownership of property through companies in offshore jurisdictions is categorically denied,” the firm, DLA Piper, said in a letter responding to a request for comment from the ICIJ, The Post and other partners.
Abdullah, the letter said, “has not at any point misused public monies or made any use whatsoever of the proceeds of aid or assistance intended for public use.”
Jordanians linked the word “Pandora” to the Arabic “bandoora,” meaning tomato, and images of the fruit quickly populated Jordanian Twitter, Facebook and Clubhouse accounts. Abdullah has previously claimed tomatoes, particularly a rustic Jordanian tomato stew, as his favorite food. “I bet qalayet bandoora is no longer his favorite dish,” one poster wrote.
But supporters of the royal family were quick to weigh in, sharing videos of the king backed by patriotic songs. “We will not allow insects and garbage to destroy this country, when push comes to shove we are with our leader,” one Jordanian tweeted. “We won’t respond to the tomatoes or anything else.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, reacting to news that members of his government appeared in the Pandora Papers, said he would investigate any Pakistani citizen whose name appeared in the documents.
In tweets that echoed his campaign-trail rhetoric, Khan criticized “ruling elites of the developing world,” who he said are contributing to “thousands of poverty-related deaths.” He said his government welcomes the leak for “exposing the ill-gotten wealth of elites” and said global economic inequality should be viewed as a crisis akin to climate change.
“My govt will investigate all our citizens mentioned in the Pandora Papers & if any wrongdoing is established we will take appropriate action,” Khan tweeted.
The documents contain no suggestion that Khan himself owns offshore companies, but they detail the financial holdings of numerous high-profile associates.
The files show how Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, a key political ally of Khan, planned to put the proceeds from an allegedly corrupt business deal into a secret trust, concealing them from Pakistan’s tax authorities. On Sunday, a family spokesman told ICIJ’s media partners that, “due to political victimisation misleading interpretations and data have been circulated in files for nefarious reasons.” He added that the family’s assets “are declared as per applicable law.”
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is up for reelection this week, on Sunday suggested the Pandora Papers revelations about him are part of an effort to “influence the Czech election.” On Twitter, he said he had done nothing “illegal or wrong.”
The documents revealed on Sunday show that in 2009, he purchased a $22 million chateau near Cannes, France, with a cinema and two swimming pools, using shell companies that hid the identity of its new owner.
In Russia, hours after ICIJ revealed that a Russian woman acquired a luxury waterfront apartment in Monaco after she reportedly had a child with Russian President Vladimir Putin, some Russian state-run media outlets were omitting any reference to the revelations about Putin.
State news agency Tass did not name any of the Russians implicated. The RIA state news wire focused its report about the documents on a political foe of Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (The Pandora Papers revealed that Zelensky transferred his stake in a secret offshore company shortly before he won the 2019 election. Zelensky did not respond to ICIJ requests for comment.)
But while the Kremlin and media outlets friendly to it have been mum on the findings about the wealth of Putin and his associates, Russian opposition figures rejoiced on social media. Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is serving a prison sentence of more than two years on charges international observers have condemned as politically motivated, gained fame by publishing detailed exposés accusing Putin’s inner circle of graft.
“It’s terribly funny how the RIA Novosti rag is covering the Pandora Papers — ‘Zelensky this, Zelensky that,’ ” Leonid Volkov, a close ally of Navalny, wrote on Twitter. He added that the revelations about Putin and other prominent Russians will then be dismissed as “inventions and machinations of the CIA.”
Sarah Dadouch and Rick Noack contributed to this report.