Pandora Papers: Shakira, Elton John and Ringo Starr among celebrities named in offshore data leak

·4 min read

Celebrities including Shakira, Elton John and Ringo Starr have been named in the leaked Pandora Papers, which have exposed the offshore dealings and assets of some of the world’s most powerful people.

More than 300 world leaders, politicians, business figures and entertainment stars have reportedly been tied to complex offshore accounting and tax avoidance schemes.

The report, put together by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), is based on the leak of approximately 11.9 million documents from 14 financial service companies.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the leaks show that Shakira, Elton John and Ringo Starr set up PO box companies in known tax havens including the British Virgin Islands, Panama or the Bahamas, a setup often used in complex tax arrangements.

Spanish singer Julio Iglesias was also one of those named in the leaks. El Pais reports that the Spanish singer has at least 20 companies in the British Virgin Islands, which were used to purchase a private plane and luxury homes in Miami. This includes property on the sought-after island village, Indian Creek, where homes can fetch as much as $112m (£82.4m).

Iglesias, who has a fortune estimated by Forbes of 800m€ (£684.3m), is widely regarded as the biggest-selling Spanish-speaking artist of all time. The 20 companies listed in the Pandora Papers are apparently controlled by the Julio Iglesias de la Cueva Revocable Trust, which was set up in the British Virgin Islands in 1995 with the aim of managing the artist’s assets “for inheritance purposes”.

The Independent has contacted representatives for Shakira, Elton John, Ringo Starr and Julio Iglesias for comment.

Also named in the leaks are former British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Blair; associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin; King Abdullah of Jordan, and Czech prime minister Andrew Babis.

The Blairs saved around £312,000 in tax on the purchase of a London property by acquiring an offshore company named Romanstone International Limited, which was based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

The couple bought the £6.45m townhouse on Harcourt Street in Marylebone by establishing a British company named Harcourt Ventures to acquire the shares in Romanstone. The manner of the deal allegedly allowed the Blairs to avoid having to pay stamp duty, as the tax is not paid when the holding company of a property is acquired rather than the building directly.

In a tweeted statement, the Tony Blair Institute said its office premises on Harcourt Street were acquired from “an offshore company which the Blairs had had nothing to do with”.

It added: “[Cherie Blair] brought it onshore. No stamp duty was payable because it was the sale of a company.

“But capital gains tax – likely to be much more than the stamp duty – will of course be payable when it is resold. The allegation that [the Blairs] avoided tax is therefore completely false.

“They have always paid their taxes in full and never used offshore avoidance schemes of any kind.”

The ICIJ has not accused the people named in the documents of violating any laws.

Tax authorities in the UK and Australia have confirmed they plan to investigate the documents to assess whether there is evidence that any of the individuals broke local tax law.

Labour has also called on the Conservative Party to return money given by a major donor after the so-called “Pandora papers” linked him to an allegedly corrupt telecoms deal.

Asked to comment on claims made about Mohamed Amersi’s involvement in a deal between Uzbekistan and Telia, a Swedish firm, Boris Johnson said all donations to his party were “vetted in the normal way”.

Former prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie have defended their purchase (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
Former prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie have defended their purchase (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

Earlier on Monday 4 October, Rishi Sunak said HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) would probe the information revealed in the leaks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that wealthy people avoiding tax is a “global problem”, after he was asked whether he was ashamed that London is a haven for those looking to get out of paying their fair share.

“I don’t think it’s a source of shame [for London], because actually our track record on this is very strong,” he said.

”As you’ve seen from the [Pandora] Papers, it’s a global problem, there’s a global dimension to it and we need other countries to co-operate with us to tackle this, but we’re determined to do that.“

The Pandora Papers are a follow-up to a similar project in 2016, the Panama Papers, which were based on a data leak from a single and now-defunct law firm.

Some of the revelations from the 2016 leak were used for Steven Soderbergh’s Netflix satire, The Laundromat, which starred Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas.

Read more of The Independent’s coverage on the Pandora papers here.

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