Prominent Arab figures revealed in Paradise Papers

Prominent Arab figures revealed in Paradise Papers
Several prominent figures in the Middle East have been revealed in the Paradise Papers leak shifting money across the globe to cut tax.
4 min read
07 November, 2017
The US-born Queen of Jordan is the beneficiary of two trusts registered in Jersey [Getty]
Several prominent figures in the Middle East have been revealed in the Paradise Papers leak having shifted money across the globe to cut tax.

The details come from a leak of 13.4 million files that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth.

The so-called Paradise Papers documents, mainly from the offshore law firm Appleby, have been shared with international media via the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The ICIJ adds a disclaimer saying "there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts".

"We do not intend to suggest or imply that any people, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly".

Rami Makhlouf

The cousin of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has been personally named in documents released under the Paradise Papers investigation. It details his connections with four Lebanese companies created between 2001 and 2003, before Syrian troops officially withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 after 29 years of military occupation.

Three of the companies are described as investment holding companies, while Middle East Law Firm S.A.L. lists its activities as negotiating and signing contracts outside Lebanon. Records identify Makhlouf as co-founder of three of the four companies.

Makhlouf was once termed the "poster boy for corruption" in official US diplomatic correspondence and was brought under US Treasury sanctions in 2008 for facilitating Syrian corruption.

Queen Noor of Jordan

The US-born Queen of Jordan and stepmother of King Abdullah, is the beneficiary of two trusts registered in Jersey, according to a document dated October 2015.

The Valentine 1997 Trust was valued at more than $40 million in 2015 and its income is to be paid to the queen during her lifetime. The trust also owns property in southern England adjacent to Buckhurst Park, where Queen Noor resides.

According to Appleby documents, the other trust – the Brown Discretionary Settlement – is the beneficial owner of a Jersey-incorporated investment holding company with assets worth about $18.7 million in 2015.

A spokesman for Queen Noor told ICIJ that "all the bequests made to her and to her children by [the late King Hussein] have always been administered according to the highest ethical, legal and regulatory standards".

Mudhar Ghassan Shawkat

Mudhar Ghassan Shawkat is a former member of the Iraqi parliament and of the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein. A Canadian citizen, Shawkat is a business executive with interests in the telecommunications and security industries.

According to confidential emails, a lawyer representing Shawkat and his son, Ali, asked Appleby to hold in escrow about $140 million. The law firm refused that request but accepted them as clients later in 2008.

Appleby set up the Passion Group Trust for the benefit of Mudhar Shawkat's family members and registered three affiliated companies in the British Virgin Islands in 2008 and 2011.

Upon the incorporation of a not-for-profit entity, concerns about the family’s reported association with Ahmed Chalabi, a former Iraqi deputy prime minister who advocated for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, emerged at the law firm.

"It is suspicious," an Appleby employee wrote in an email, "that they are setting up a charitable company offshore [Passion for Change S.A.] for funds coming out of Iraq – there does not seem any benefit other than lack of accountability in doing so".

Shawkat told ICIJ that he has no legal or beneficial interest in any of the four entities of the Passion Group, nor does he have control over or involvement in their business activities. He added that he has never had any commercial or business ventures or dealings with Chalabi.

Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Appleby's files list Prince Khaled, the former deputy minister of defence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the beneficiary of the Acorn Trust and the Minstrel Trust.

Between 1989 and 2014 Prince Khaled registered at least eight companies in Bermuda, some of which were used to own yachts and aircraft.

Bermuda-based Actaeon Shipping Ltd. owned and operated a "large pleasure yacht" while Euroyacht Ltd. had assets worth $51 million in 1992 and earned income from chartering the yacht Golden Odyssey. Euroyacht Ltd. once owned a Venetian Water Taxi named Serenella.

Prince Khaled did not respond to a request for comment from ICIJ.