OCTOBER 3, 2021
Leaked financial documents identify a network of secretly-owned firms used by Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein to buy 15 homes since he assumed power in 1999.
They included houses in Malibu, and in London and Ascot in the UK.
Lawyers for King Abdullah said he used his personal wealth to buy the homes and there was nothing improper about him using offshore firms to do so.
Jordan receives substantial international aid, including from the US and UK. The UK government is one of the regime’s biggest financial backers, doubling its funding to £650m over five years in 2019.
And King Abdullah is seen as a moderate Western ally in the Middle East.
But his property interests have been built up between 2003 and 2017 as he has been accused of presiding over an authoritarian regime at home – with protests taking place in recent years at a time of austerity measures and tax rises.
The Jordanian authorities announced a crackdown in June 2020 to target money being sent abroad by its citizens.
One dissident has been quoted as saying King Abdullah appears to rule Jordan by “remote control” – and a former government employee suggested to Panorama he spends four to six months a year away from the country.
Who is the King of Jordan?
- Born 30 January 1962, eldest son of King Hussein and his British born wife Princess Muna Al-Hussein
- Schooled in the UK and US, attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
- Served in the British Army and the Royal Jordanian Army
- Married Queen Rania in 1993
- Backed Western military efforts following the September 11 attacks
- Promoted economic and social modernisation within Jordan but faced criticism over the economy, with austerity measures and tax rises sparking protests in 2018
The revelations about the King of Jordan are contained in newly-obtained financial documents dubbed the Pandora Papers. They detail the work of companies that offer secretive financial services – and the hidden fortunes of some of the most powerful people on the planet.
BBC Panorama and the Guardian in the UK have worked with other media partners to access more than 12 million files from 14 companies in the British Virgin Islands, Belize, Panama, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Switzerland and other countries.
King Abdullah also bought four apartments in Georgetown, an expensive part of Washington DC, between 2012 and 2014.
It is possible the $16m purchases were connected to his son, Crown Prince Hussein, who was attending Georgetown University around the time.
‘Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to cover their tracks’
The seven-bedroom home sits among the multi-million dollar cliff-top properties overlooking the Pacific in the Point Dume peninsula of Malibu, California.
Sir Anthony Hopkins, Julia Roberts, Simon Cowell, Gwyneth Paltrow and Barbra Streisand have all lived in the area.
The property was bought for $33.5m in 2014 by Nabisco Holdings SA, a company in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – a record price for the area at the time.
Two different BVI companies bought the homes either side of the property in 2015 and 2017, taking the total spend to $68m – and all three are being developed into one huge property.
The documents in the Pandora Papers reveal the three companies are among those represented by a Panama law firm, and all were secretly owned by the King of Jordan.
An anonymous blogger who writes about celebrity house sales in California said at the time: “Someone has gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to cover their tracks here. Yes, very rich people often like to stay anonymous. But this level of deliberate opacity is practically beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed.
‘You know who’
The King of Jordan was able to to keep his property ownership secret because he used offshore companies to make the purchases.
The people who set up the companies for the king were careful not to identify him, referring to him in one internal document as “You know who”.
There are also suggestions that international efforts to improve financial transparency can face difficulties.
The British Virgin Islands passed a law in 2017 – compelling the owners of all companies on the island to be identified on an internal register held by the government.
But a document shows that eight months after the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System Act came into force, a number of BVI companies linked to King Abdullah had still not submitted his details to the authorities.
The king also does not appear to have been identified as a politically-exposed person – someone in a prominent public position – a requirement on financial firms under anti-corruption rules.
Annelle Sheline, a Middle East analyst, suggests the revelations could have an impact in Jordan.
She told Panorama: “It’s just very, very difficult for the average Jordanian to, achieve a basic level of home and family, and a good job. And so to have it really thrown in Jordanian’s faces that he’s just been funnelling money abroad all this time? That, that would look really bad.”
Lawyers for King Abdullah said the information about his properties was not accurate or up to date.
They said all his overseas properties were bought with his personal wealth, which he also uses to fund projects for Jordan’s citizens.
They added the offshore structures were not used to hide the king’s wealth and it is common practice practice for high profile individuals and corporations to acquire and hold assets through such corporate structures for privacy and security reasons.
They said the management is “handled by professionals to ensure smooth running of day-to-day operations and compliance with all legal and financial obligations in the relevant jurisdiction in which they are incorporated”.
Where are the king’s hidden properties?
It was not just Malibu, where the king secretly bought property. Eight were in London and south-east England, the Pandora Papers indicate.
They included six houses on some of the capital’s most exclusive streets – in Kensington and Belgravia.
There were also two house in Ascot, Surrey.
He also purchased the four flats in Georgetown, Washington DC.
The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents and files exposing the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires. The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC which has led the biggest ever global investigation.More than 600 journalists from 117 countries have looked at the hidden fortunes of some of the most powerful people on the planet.