offshore accounts

Last week, a team of investigative journalists from around the world released the Pandora Papers, which provide a granular overview of offshore financial accounts and, in certain instances, tax avoidance and money laundering practices commonly used by many of the world’s most influential figures. According to the papers, Lebanon’s elite own the single largest number of offshore financial companies in the world. The revelation has sparked significant backlash in Lebanon, though many are unsurprised. 

The Pandora Papers consist of approximately 12 million financial documents that spotlight where and how the world’s elite manage their wealth. Over 600 journalists from 117 countries reviewed the Papers under the leadership of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington DC-based organization. According to the ICIJ, the leaks demonstrate an extensive network of “crime, corruption, and wrongdoing,” enabled and obscured by a series of opaque offshore companies. 

The Pandora Papers contained numerous revelations regarding the state of corruption in Lebanon. The Papers outline that the country’s elite owns more than 346 offshore companies around the world. In comparison, elites in the United Kingdom, who rank second on the list for most offshore companies, own less than half of such companies. The leaks implicate numerous high-profile Lebanese figures, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, and the leader of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameh. These recent insights confirm what many have known to be true for some time — corruption in Lebanon is rampant. Transparency International’s Corruptions Perception Index (CPI) ranked Lebanon 149 out of 180 in the world in 2020, assigning it a score of 25 out of 100. The CPI evaluates and ranks 180 countries and territories based on their perceived levels of public sector corruption. A score of 0 indicates the country has very high levels of corruption, a score of 100 indicates it has very low levels of corruption. 

For decades, the country’s ruling elite, including politicians, the police, and public administrators, have used corrupt practices to solidify their power and wealth. In contrast, the rest of the country languishes in economic uncertainty. The consequences of such mismanagement are visible today. Since 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost about 90% of its value, and 80% of its population now lives in poverty. Today, inflation rates have skyrocketed, essential goods are unaffordable, and unemployment is rampant. The revelations from the Pandora Papers have sparked significant anger among the Lebanese populace. They highlight how the country’s ruling class has continuously prioritized their needs over the needs of the people and has continued to do so despite the ongoing financial crisis. 

The Pandora Papers provide valuable insights into how the world’s wealthiest have managed their financial holdings in secretive, and at times, illegal ways. The leaks have, indeed, further solidified the notion that leading Lebanese figures are solely interested in protecting and growing their wealth, while Lebanon endures a grueling economic and political crisis.

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