Saudi Arabia's King Salman and the President of United Arab Emirates Khalifa bin Zayed have been implicated in the massive Panama Papers leak that showed how rich figures from around the world used the Panam-based law firm Mossack Fonseca to avoid taxes and store money abroad.
Sheikh Khalifa, who became the president of the UAE in 2000 after the death of his father, used the services of Mossack Fonseca to establish at least 30 companies in the British Virgin Islands that owned and operated US$1.7 billion worth of commercial and residential assets for the Sheikh in high-end neighborhoods in the United Kingdom.
“By December 2015, nearly all the shares in those companies were held by Mossack Fonseca through trust structures, but the true beneficiary remained the Sheikh, as well as his wife, son and daughter,” the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an anti-corruption organization which received some of the leaked documents, said Tuesday in a breakdown of those involved.
In what is described as the biggest documents leak in the history of journalism, an unknown whistleblower exposed more than 11.5 million documents belonging to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that helped world leaders, celebrities and rich business people hide assets in offshore tax havens around the world.
In King Salman’s case, the leaks show that he had “an unspecific role” in Verse Development Corporation, incorporated in 1999, and Inrow Corporation, incorporated in 2002 both set up in the British Virgin Islands
In 2009, those two companies took at least two mortgages worth more than US$34 million and the money was used for purchasing luxury homes in central London in connection to the king and his family.
While King Salman's precise role is not specified, both mortgages are mentioned "in relation to" him and his assets, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said.
King Salman was also described as "the principal user" of a motor yacht, Erga, named after the king’s palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and registered in London by the BVI company Crassus Limited, incorporated in 2004.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil producer with more than 11 million barrels per day. Most of the financial benefit from the country’s oil mostly goes to the hands of the ruling Saud family. Late Saudi King Abdullah’s fortune was estimated by Forbes magazine at US$18 billion. Meanwhile,current King Salman’s net worth is estimated at US$17 billion.
However, Saudi Arabia has more than 20 percent poverty, meaning more than 4 million people live on less than US$17 a day.
Also the United Arab Emirates is the seventh oil producer in the world at more than 3 million barrels per day, and President Khalifa has a net worth of more than US$24 billion. The country is made of seven emirates. The richest one is the capital Abu Dhabi as it controls more than 95 percent of the country’s oil. Khalifa is the emir of Abu Dhabi.
In the UAE, most of the wealth from oil is concentrated within the citizen population of the country which amounts to less than 15 percent, or less than 1 million people, of the country’s 7 million total population.
However, most of the wealth goes to the hands of the ruling family Al Nahyan. The rest of the emirates do not get a share in oil wealth due to the country’s federal system. Also the population of the UAE is mostly made of foreign workers who are denied civil and citizenship rights.
Both those countries are considered key allies of the United States on military and financial levels. Most Western media seems to focus on other figures included in the leaks such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was not directly linked to the corruption scheme, while ignoring key Western allies in the Middle East.
Other Arab leaders implicated in the Panama Papers include the former Prime Minister of Jordan Ali Abu al-Ragheb, former Prime Minister of Iraq Ayad Allawi and, former Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
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