While foreign aid poured in, Jordan’s King Abdullah funnelled $100m through secret companies to buy luxury homes.
Jordanian protesters took to the streets – again – demanding an end to corruption and poverty in the aid-dependent Middle Eastern monarchy. Masked police broke up the demonstrations and jailed critics of the country’s leaders.
Still, the people chanted for change.
Finally, in a bid to defuse the crisis, Jordanian authorities in June 2020 trumpeted a crackdown on hidden wealth, designed to help stanch the flow of an estimated $800 million a year out of the country.
Then-Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz said the crackdown was especially needed to respond to COVID-19’s impact on the state’s finances. Jordan would track every last dinar that citizens had hidden in tax havens, the prime minister said; No offshore wealth was beyond scrutiny.
None, it seems, except the king’s.
A trove of leaked documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shows that the country’s long-ruling monarch, King Abdullah II, has secretly owned 14 luxury homes in the United Kingdom and the United States, purchased between 2003 and 2017 through front companies registered in tax havens. Their value totals more than $106 million.
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, D.C., with panoramic views of the Potomac River.
Also included are three adjoining beachfront homes under reconstruction at Point Dume, a posh enclave near Los Angeles. One, a seven-bedroom mansion on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was bought in 2014 through one of the king’s shell companies, Nabisco Holdings (no connection to the cookie company), for $33.5 million.
Advisers to the 59-year-old monarch, who awards an annual prize for transparency in his name, spared no effort to conceal his real estate holdings, the records show. Accountants and lawyers in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands formed shell companies on the king’s behalf and concocted plans to shield his name from public and even confidential government registries.
On two documents, BVI corporate administrators at the firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, better known as Alcogal, checked boxes to declare that no one connected to one of the king’s companies was involved in politics – even though the king has the power to appoint governments, dissolve Parliament and approve legislation.
Writing to ICIJ on the king’s behalf, attorneys denied anything improper about owning homes through offshore companies. The king is not required to pay taxes under Jordanian law, the attorneys said.
Experts familiar with the region say the timing of the purchases, if made public, would likely have alienated many Jordanians and the tribal leaders who help keep Abdullah in power. Most of the U.S. and U.K. real estate deals – and six of those for more than $5 million – took place since 2011, after Arab Spring protests that toppled governments in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and posed the first serious threat to the Jordanian monarchy in generations.