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Monday, October 18, 2021

Czech, Cypriot leaders named in massive offshore data leak

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Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades are among those named in the so-called Pandora Papers, a massive leak of documents that reveals how the rich and powerful use offshore companies to hide their wealth.

The data were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in collaboration with a number of major media outlets, and revealed on Sunday.

According to the data, in 2009, Babiš, who faces a general election this week, “injected $22 million [€19 million] into a string of shell companies to buy a sprawling property, known as Chateau Bigaud, in a hilltop village in Mougins, France, near Cannes.”

The ICIJ adds that Babiš “has not disclosed the shell companies and the chateau in the asset declarations he’s required to file as a public official, according to documents obtained by ICIJ’s Czech partner, Investigace.cz. In 2018, a real estate conglomerate indirectly owned by Babiš quietly bought the Monaco company that owned the chateau.”

According to the report, the Czech prime minister did not respond to requests for comment.

There have been long-standing concerns in Brussels that Babiš may have inappropriately benefited from EU funds.

In 2017, Babiš placed his massive Agrofert agriculture and chemical conglomerate in two trust funds. But in a 2019 audit, made public earlier this year, the European Commission found the prime minister still had “direct” and “indirect” influence over those trust funds. As a result, it said, “all grants” awarded to Agrofert since February 2017 violated a conflict-of-interest law.

Also named in the Pandora Papers investigation is Cypriot President Anastasiades. According to the investigation, a law firm called Nicos Chr. Anastasiades and Partners “appears in the Pandora Papers as a key offshore go-between for wealthy Russians. The firm retains the name of its founder, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, and the president’s two daughters are partners there.”

According to the Guardian’s story on the investigation, the Cypriot law firm “denies any wrongdoing, while the Cypriot president says he ceased having an active role in its affairs after becoming leader of the opposition in 1997.”

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