Lebanon PM Mikati among officials named in Pandora Papers

Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh are among several Lebanese political and financial officials named in the Pandora Papers with wealth hidden in offshore tax havens, at a time when millions of Lebanese people cannot access their savings in the banks.

The Pandora Papers, published on Sunday, are based on 11.9 million confidential files leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), which found links to more than 330 politicians and public officials, including 35 current and former national leaders, in 91 countries and territories.

The Papers show that Mikati, the recently reappointed billionaire prime minister of Lebanon, owns a Panama-based offshore company he used to buy property in Monaco worth $10m.

His son Maher owns at least two companies in the British Virgin Islands, which he used to buy an office in central London for the Mikati family’s international investment company, the M1 Group, the investigation revealed.

Maher told Al Jazeera that “using offshore entities could be considered as forms of tax evasion for US and EU nationals but this is not the case for Lebanese nationals”.

He told the ICIJ that owning real estate through offshore entities offers more “flexibility” when it comes to renting, inheritance planning, and “potential tax advantages”.

Prime Minister Mikati issued a statement in response to the leaks, saying: “Since its inception, M1 Group (the Mikati family business) – and all its subsidiaries around the world – have upheld a separation between public and private.”

The statement added that the family business was “compliant with global standards” and consulted auditors regularly. It also said the Mikati family fortune had been amassed prior to Mikati’s involvement in Lebanese politics, and that his assets had been disclosed to the Lebanese Constitutional Council.

“Regrettably, the underlying logic behind the ‘Papers’ drifted toward transforming most, if not all, of those mentioned into ‘suspicious’ individuals &/or companies, by the mere fact of being listed in there – a logic that goes against the free-market business practices and good governance, in liberal economies, principles that the Mikati family defends.”

Salameh, meanwhile, is the target of several investigations. In July, French prosecutors opened an investigation into money-laundering allegations against the longtime central bank chief who has often dismissed them as politically motivated campaigns.

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