Newly leaked financial documents have revealed that the King of Jordan has secretly spent more than $100m on property listings in the UK and US, sparking criticism as the country continues to struggle with skyrocketing unemployment and austerity measures.
The Pandora papers, shared over the weekend by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), have revealed that King Abdullah II between 2003 and 2017 amassed an international luxury property empire that includes 14 homes from Malibu, California and Washington, to central London and Ascot, UK.
The properties were bought in secret, using offshore companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to disguise the king’s ownership, the Pandora papers show. Most of the homes were purchased following the 2011 “Arab Spring”.
Lawyers for King Abdullah II have responded to the leaked documents, alleging that despite the use of tax havens, the monarch used his personal wealth to buy the homes and that no public funds ever went into the purchases.
“HM [His Majesty] has not at any point misused public monies or made any use whatsoever of the proceeds of aid or assistance intended for public use,” the lawyers said in a statement to the ICIJ.
“HM cares deeply for Jordan and its people and acts with integrity and in the best interests of his country and its citizens at all times,” the statement continued.
Still, authorities took measures to block the ICIJ’s website in Jordan on Sunday, hours before the Pandora papers launched, the Guardian reported.
Jordan has long sought to silence those who might question the wealth of King Abdullah II, who has ruled the country for more than two decades.
Earlier this year, an unprecedented rift erupted between Jordan’s ruling family and former crown prince Hamzah bin Hussein, a beloved figure, as he criticised the “ruling system” for deciding “its personal interests, that its financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity of futures of 10 million people that live here”.
Jordanians protest corruption and poverty
In 2019, Amjad Hazza al-Majali, who once advised the king’s father, wrote a letter widely circulated on social media demanding that the royal family return “stolen” money and land to the state treasury.
Majali’s letter came amid ongoing protests against corruption and poverty, as the country’s unemployment rate had hit 18.6 percent by 2019. Jordanians were calling for the suspension of fuel taxes, the abolition of sales tax on basic goods, the release of all political prisoners and action against corruption.
A crackdown on protesters that saw critics and demonstrators jailed did not fully quell the protest movement, and in June 2020, Jordanian authorities agreed to combat the issue of hidden wealth in the country, which was contributing to an estimated $800m flowing out of the country every year.
Then-Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz vowed to track every last dinar hidden in tax havens, stating that no offshore wealth was beyond scrutiny.
King Abdullah II’s 14 secretly owned mansions, however, were seemingly not included in that crackdown. According to the King’s lawyers, the monarch is not required to pay taxes under Jordanian law and therefore had done nothing wrong by using such offshore tax havens.
The lawyers also told ICIJ that the information about the king’s properties was not accurate or up to date.
Luxury mansion views
According to the Pandora papers, the homes include a house in Ascot, one of England’s most expensive towns, multimillion-dollar apartments in central London and three luxury apartments in a complex in Washington that include panoramic views of the Potomac River, ICIJ reported.
Also included are three adjoining beachfront homes under reconstruction at an upperclass enclave near Los Angeles, one of which is a seven-bedroom mansion on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean that was purchased in 2014 for $33.5m.
‘Jordan doesn’t have the kind of money… to allow a king to flaunt his wealth’
-Annelle Sheline, Quincy Institute
Meanwhile, unemployment has now reached 25 percent as Jordan’s economy continues to struggle in the face of chronic deficits.
One of the poorest countries in the Middle East, Jordan has almost no oil resources and very little water reserves. As such, the kingdom depends on foreign aid, particularly from the US, which provided $1.5bn in funding last year alone. The UK government is another main financial backer, doubling its funding to $880m over five years in 2019.
“Jordan doesn’t have the kind of money that other Middle Eastern monarchies, like Saudi Arabia, have to allow a king to flaunt his wealth,” Annelle Sheline, an expert on religious and political authority in the Middle East, said in an interview with ICIJ.
“If the Jordanian monarch were to display his wealth more publicly, it wouldn’t only antagonise his people, it would piss off Western donors who have given him money,” added Sheline, who is a research fellow with the Quincy Institute in Washington.
Annelle Sheline, a Middle East analyst, told the BBC that the revelations could have a major impact in Jordan.
“It’s just very, very difficult for the average Jordanian to achieve a basic level of home and family, and a good job,” Sheline said. “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.”
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