Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has appeared in a list of suspected tax avoiders and offshore crooks, documented in the The Pandora Papers – a leak of almost 12 million documents that reveals the financial dealings of some of the world’s most powerful individuals.
The development is set to get Blair and his wife probed over how the couple amassed wealth to the tune of USD50 million.
Tony Blair was elected leader of the U.K.’s Labour Party in 1994 after speaking out against the abuse of the tax system. He went on to serve as prime minister for three terms, from 1997 to 2007. He then tried to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians as a “special envoy” for the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations,the ICIJ reports.
Blair’s wife, Cherie, is a lawyer. Since Tony Blair left office, the couple has bought more than 38 U.K. properties worth nearly $50 million, the Daily Mail reported in 2017.
In early 2017, Tony and Cherie Blair registered a U.K. company named Harcourt Ventures Ltd., a property rental firm, according to British property records.
That summer, the company bought a British Virgin Islands entity named Romanstone International Ltd., which owned a building in London valued at $8.8 million, according to property records.
Romanstone International had been a subsidiary of a real estate firm owned by the family of Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani, Bahrain’s industry and tourism minister. The Pandora Papers for the first time reveal the link between the al-Zayanis and the London property.
By acquiring a company that owns a property, instead of acquiring the property directly, the Blairs were not required to pay property taxes, according to experts consulted by The Guardian, an ICIJ partner. The arrangement — which is legal — allowed them to save more than $400,000, according to The Guardian.
In a statement to the BBC, an ICIJ partner, a spokesperson for the Blairs said that they “were aware” that land tax “is not payable in respect of the purchase of shares” and that the seller requested “to structure the transaction this way.”
The London building now hosts the headquarters of Cherie Blair’s law firm. The BVI company, Romanstone International, was closed in 2018. The U.K. company, which now owns the building, remains active.
When reached for comment, Cherie Blair said that her husband was not involved in the transaction and that “all the arrangements made were for the express purpose to bring the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime and all taxes have been paid ever since and all accounts openly filed in accordance with the law.”
She also said that she “did not want to be the owner of a BVI company” and that the “seller for their own purposes only wanted to sell the company.”
Through their lawyer, the al-Zayanis said that their “companies have complied with all U.K. laws past and present” and that Minister al-Zayani is “one of several beneficiaries of the Companies.”
Alcogal said that neither Tony nor Cherie Blair were their clients. “The owner of the company in our records transferred its ownership, and the new owner appointed another Registered Agent,” a spokesperson for the Panamanian law firm was quoted by the ICIJ. – source: ICIJJ