Offshore financial activities linked to top political figures, state-run companies, government business deals and lucrative real estate all featured prominently in Pandora Papers reporting by journalists in Eastern Europe — a region that faces some of the most grave threats to press freedom in the world.
The Pandora Papers is the largest-ever leak of documents from offshore havens, made up of nearly 12 million documents from the law firms and financial advisers that facilitate the creation of offshore shell companies. It’s also ICIJ’s biggest collaboration ever, with more than 600 journalists from 117 countries participating.
Here are some Pandora Papers highlights from reporters in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in Central Asia exposed a vast network of offshore companies that helped three children and two close associates of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev acquire luxurious penthouses and commercial office space in the heart of London. Pandora Papers documents reveal how these properties were held by an interconnected network of 84 offshore companies.
Belsat journalists in Belarus, who were directly targeted by pro-government propagandists, exposed lucrative connections between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and a close ally in Zimbabwe. The son of Lukashenko’s right-hand man, Viktor Sheiman, secured business deals with Zimbabwe’s government through a company that he owned and another well-connected figure who stood to gain from a controversial gold mining venture.
In Bulgaria, BIRD exposed three offshore companies which belonged to a former lawmaker and media mogul Delyan Peevski, who failed to report them in his property declarations. BIRD also uncovered two BVI companies formed by Peevski’s mother, and reported on how former Bulgarian minister Nikolay Mladenov registered an offshore company in the Seychelles, all of which were not reported.
ICIJ’s new partners at MANS exposed how Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and his son Blazo created secret contracts that helped them manage their assets by hiding it behind a network of companies in five different countries: the U.K., Switzerland, British Virgin Islands, Panama and Gibraltar. Djukanovic is one of 35 current and former presidents and prime ministers whose offshore dealings were exposed in the Pandora Papers.
Russian investigative outlet IStories, together with ICIJ and other Pandora Papers partners, investigated how the director of a state-owned television network, Konstantin Ernst, was a beneficiary of an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands that participated in a grandiose project to demolish Soviet cinemas in Moscow and build shopping centers in their place. Russian state banks provided tens of billions of rubles for the project.
IStories also uncovered how the daughter and former son-in-law of Nikolai Tokarev, the head of oil pipeline Transneft,, became Cypriot citizens in the same year the company fell under European Union sanctions. Over the years, Tokarev’s son-in-law’s secret companies received several billion rubles under contracts with Transneft and its enterprises.
In the midst of their reporting on the offshore dealings of powerful Russian businessmen, ICIJ partners were named “foreign agents”, a designation used by Russian authorities to pressure journalists and subject them to onerous financial reporting.
Serbian Finance Minister and former Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali, was previously exposed for purchasing 24 seaside apartments in Bulgaria’s “Sveti Nikola.” Serbian journalists from KRIK, another investigative center that has been constantly under attack by pro-government media, confirmed through Pandora Papers documents that Mali was the owner of both offshore companies that bought the apartments.
Slovenian outlet Oštro formed a new center in Croatia to publish Pandora Papers stories from the country. Together, they exposed the beneficial owners of a top real estate developer, Jadranka. They revealed the involvement of the Perenčević brothers, directors of Velesstroy, a Russian pipeline construction company working with the monopolist Transneft, and how they transferred millions of euros to Croatia via offshore entities. The investigation also exposed how a dividend payment to Velesstroy’s shareholder of 3.1 million euros was sent to Croatia for urgent fire repairs in the most luxurious hotel on the island, but the actual fire damages were officially evaluated at less than 27,000 euros.
Ukrainian journalists from Slidstvo published a series of Pandora Papers stories that reveal hidden offshore business activities of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy‘s entourage, including valuable real estate in the heart of London, how Zelenskyy and his close associates may have been involved in the transfer of $ 40 million from structures linked to oligarch Igor Kolomoisky and others.