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Pandora Papers Reveal How The Rich Use Real Estate

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It’s time again to join the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their plutocrat-hunting expedition through the Pandora Papers, the massive document leak that details how the world’s richest people and their most famous celebrities run their money moving around the world globe to avoid taxes on it. This week’s lesson is about how useful real estate transactions can be.

For Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, the property in question was a mansion in Los Angeles. Arzu Aliyeva, daughter of the Azerbaijani President, bought an office building in London. The Legion of Christ, a wealthy religious order disgraced by a sexual abuse scandal, has invested millions of dollars in rental property in the United States. Starr, Aliyeva and the Legion are among the hundreds of real estate owners or investors whose identities are revealed in the Pandora Papers … The leaked records reveal billions of dollars in spending by the rich and famous – celebrities and politicians, oligarchs and other members of the Uber Empire . And not only are they buying luxury properties, but properties that are not usually associated with offshore purchases. Dairy farms in Tasmania, a shopping mall in Uganda, and rental homes in the American suburbs have all been bought, directly or indirectly, through offshore firms or trusts, the records show.

And there are ramifications for the real world that go beyond the gossip in the supermarket.

Real estate is a stable investment that often increases in value. By purchasing real estate through a letterbox company, buyers can secure tax breaks and protect their identities from law enforcement agencies and creditors. Secrecy also empowers criminals, including money launderers and drug cartels. Your real estate dealings through offshore companies move millions of dollars while escaping verification. In the UK, a director of the National Crime Agency said he believed dirty money “distorted” the London property market. The combination of asset security and secrecy has also made offshore holdings a haven for money and other assets from less stable economies. Growing body of evidence suggests that offshore buying at the high end of the real estate market is having a ripple effect, pricing people down the real estate ladder below.

It’s also about how two legacy Canadian millionaires came to own dairy farms in Tasmania. Her father’s company made a fortune in Nigerian oil the old-fashioned way.

The Pandora Papers reveal that the two sons of a mysterious Canadian businessman bought four Tasmanian farms spanning 2,550 acres over seven years. The brothers Anthony and Stephen de Heinrich used a complex offshore network, including a company in Singapore and two trust companies in Bermuda, to acquire the properties, the confidential records show. One purpose, according to a memo, was to use a tax treaty between Singapore and Australia in a way that would lower their ultimate tax burden on companies operating in Nigeria. Company bosses reportedly paid millions of dollars in bribes to Nigeria’s oil minister in the late 1990s. The company’s Nigerian director was convicted of money laundering in France. The older Stephen Heinrich was not accused of any wrongdoing.

And then there is the alleged girlfriend of Vladimir Putin and her apartment in Monaco.

When a fourth-floor apartment changed hands for $ 4 million in the fall of 2003, the identity of the buyer was hidden behind a company in the British Virgin Islands. According to the Pandora papers, the real owner of the mailbox company and apartment was Svetlana Krivonogikh, a former St. Petersburg economics student who had worked as a cleaning lady to graduate from college, Krivonogikh was in a love affair with Putin and had only a few months earlier gave birth to a daughter whose father is not listed in the birth register. Proekt reported that Putin is the father. Krivonigikh did not respond to requests from ICIJ media partners.

The story also explains how the autocratic Aliyev family, who rule Azerbaijan, have a public trust under the leadership of Elizabeth II. The rich are different from you and me. Your money is everywhere.


Charles P. Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America, and has worked as a journalist since 1976.

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