5.9k Share this

Beirut, Lebanon – Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh are among several Lebanese political and financial officials named in the Pandora Papers with wealth hidden in offshore tax havens, at a time when millions of Lebanese people cannot access their savings in the banks.

The Pandora Papers, published on Sunday, are based on 11.9 million confidential files leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), which found links to more than 330 politicians and public officials, including 35 current and former national leaders, in 91 countries and territories.

The Papers show that Mikati, the recently reappointed billionaire prime minister of Lebanon, owns a Panama-based offshore company he used to buy property in Monaco worth $10m.

His son Maher owns at least two companies in the British Virgin Islands, which he used to buy an office in central London for the Mikati family’s international investment company, the M1 Group, the investigation revealed.

Maher told Al Jazeera that “using offshore entities could be considered as forms of tax evasion for US and EU nationals but this is not the case for Lebanese nationals”.

Najib told the ICIJ that owning real estate through offshore entities offers more “flexibility” when it comes to renting, inheritance planning, and “potential tax advantages”.

Salameh, meanwhile, is the target of several investigations. In July, French prosecutors opened an investigation into money-laundering allegations against the longtime central bank chief who has often dismissed them as politically motivated campaigns.

Other Lebanese officials listed as wholly or partially owning offshore companies include Mikati’s predecessor Hassan Diab, businessman and former MP Neemat Frem, and Deputy Group Chief Executive Officer of Bank Audi Ibrahim Debs.

Marwan Kheireddine, chairman of Al-Mawarid Bank and a former minister, was revealed to own two offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, one alongside former Central Bank Deputy Governor Mohammad Baasiri.

The other company is co-owned with the brother-in-law of Iqbal Mirchi, who was wanted by Indian police less than a decade ago on drug trafficking charges.

Records show that Kheireddine, a prominent commercial banking figure in Lebanon, and his brother registered six companies in the United Kingdom, four of which were set up just months before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began in September 2019.

Kheireddine was also widely criticised in August 2020 for purchasing a $9.9m penthouse in New York from Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence.

Establishing offshore companies is not necessarily illegal, but is a common tool for tax evasion, money laundering, and other nefarious financial practices.

Revealing the establishment’s hidden fortunes

These findings come at a unique time for cash-strapped Lebanon, said Alia Ibrahim, from independent Lebanese media organisation Daraj, one of many local partners with the ICIJ.

“While the majority of Lebanese, already facing an economic crisis, have their deposits stuck in the banks, we have a political and financial establishment able to take their money to safe havens,” Ibrahim told Al Jazeera.

“This raises serious red flags. Now it’s now up to the judiciary to investigate.”

In September 2019, due to a shortage of foreign currency, commercial banks in Lebanon imposed limits on US dollar withdrawals, causing panic nationwide.

The Lebanese pound has lost about 90 percent of its value in less than two years. Banks intermittently closed their doors and eventually stopped all US dollar withdrawals and transfers.

In July 2020, former Finance Ministry Director-General Alain Bifani said Lebanon’s banks had “smuggled” up to $6bn out of the country between October 2019 and July 2020, evading financial controls put in place to avoid exactly that. Bifani had resigned his position in protest against the government’s handling of Lebanon’s financial meltdown two weeks prior to these statements.

Activist groups have demanded that Lebanon investigates these transfers.

The United Nations estimates that nearly three-quarters of the Lebanese population lives in poverty today, and a quarter of the population requires food assistance.

Ibrahim fears that, despite the findings of the Pandora Papers which could help in investigating decades of rampant corruption, the lack of a judiciary independent of political pressure could mean that the perpetrators of these crimes would not be held to account.

“We are a country that has lost everything,” she said. “Unless we have a culture of accountability, history is going to repeat itself.”

Source: Al Jazeera

5.9k Share this
You May Also Like

The Queen of comedy! Monarch, 96, is hailed for her reaction to Platinum Jubilee celebration jokes

The Queen was cheered for her impeccable comic timing today – as…

‘I’ve Been America First my Whole Life’

Businessman David McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, emphasized…

Emma Carey debuts at Australian Fashion Week after skydiving accident

Emma Carey stunned the runway at Australian Fashion Week when she appeared…

Sam Ryder hugs Marius Bear as Switzerland receives ZERO points in Eurovision’s televoting

Sam Ryder emotionally hugs Marius Bear as Switzerland’s entry receives ZERO points…

Scottish protesters march for independence after SNP election gains in local authorities

Scottish protesters march for independence after Nicola Sturgeon said she would start…

Russia threatens to nuke Britain with Satan 2 missile in just 200 seconds and Finland in 10 seconds

A senior Putin ally threatened to fire a nuclear weapons at Britain,…

FA Cup final: Football fans fume at ‘unwatchable’ BBC and ITV pictures quality

Football fans fume at ‘unwatchable’ BBC and ITV coverage of the FA…

Eurovision hopeful Sam Ryder admits that he has struck up a friendship with Jamie Lee Curtis

‘Her being a fan of me will always be surreal’: UK Eurovision…