International

Pandora Papers: Elton John, Shakira and Ringo Starr Named in Leaked Tax Shelter Docs

Shakira
Ruven Afanador

Shakira photographed on April 2, 2018 at Torre Bellesguard Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain. 

Numerous celebrities are named in the latest trove of private financial documents exposing offshore investment and tax avoidance schemes.

Pop stars ShakiraElton John and Ringo Star, German supermodel Claudia Schiffer, as well as Spanish singer Julio Iglesias are among the celebrities named in the Pandora Papers, a massive leak of private financial documents that were published by several news organizations over the weekend, which reportedly tie world leaders and the global elite to complex offshore accounting and tax avoidance schemes.

Tax authorities in Australia and the U.K. have already confirmed they will analyze the trove of secret documents released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to see if there is any evidence that some of the wealthy individuals named in the papers broke local tax law.

Among the billionaires and current and former world leaders named in the data dump of more than 11.9 million records — including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, King Abdullah of Jordan and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis — the names of several celebrities turned up. ICIJ journalists allege that Shakira, Elton John, Ringo Starr and Claudia Schiffer all set up PO box companies in known tax havens, such as the British Virgin Islands, Panama or the Bahamas, a set-up often used to hide money from tax authorities. The news outlets which published the Pandora Papers revelations — a global consortium that includes The Washington Post, British newspaper The Guardian, Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung and El Pais in Spain — do not accuse those names in the documents of having violated any laws.

An attorney for Shakira told the ICIJ that the Colombian singer denies all wrongdoings, saying she had declared her companies in the Bahamas claiming they do not provide tax advantages. Representatives for Schiffer also claim the fashion star pays her taxes in the U.K., where she is based.

Shakira is facing a possible tax fraud case in Spain after a Spanish judge recommended in July that the singer face a trial over allegations she failed to pay €14.5 million ($16.84 million) in tax on income earned between 2012 and 2014. The case centers on allegations that Shakira lived in Spain during the period, although she was registered for tax purposes in the Bahamas. ON Monday Shakira's lawyers said a Spanish court was likely to rule in favor of the singer, though court officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Pandora Papers are a follow-up to a similar project in 2016 from the same journalist collective in 2016 called the Panama Papers. The Panama Papers, however, were based on a data leak from a single, now-defunct, law firm called Mossack Fonseca located in Panama. Some of the Panama Papers revelations were used as the basis of Steven Soderbergh's Netflix satire The Laundromat, starring Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas as Mossack Fonseca co-founders Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca.

The latest data dump is even larger than the Panama Papers and comes from documents leaked from some 14 different service providers doing business in 38 different jurisdictions in the world. Some of the records date back to the 1970s, but most of the files are from 1996 to 2020.

On Monday, The U.K. chancellor, or finance minister, Rishi Sunak said the country's tax authorities would review the leaked information and documents. The tax agency "will look through those to see if there is anything we can learn," Sunak told Sky News.

Asked in a BBC radio interview if he was ashamed that London was sometimes seen as a place for rich people looking to get out of paying their fair share of taxes, Sunak, a member of the ruling Conservative Party, said: "I don't think it is a source of shame because actually, our track record on this is very strong," adding, "there is a global dimension to it and we need other countries to co-operate with us to tackle this, but we are determined to do that."

Political London also discussed news from the leak that the ex-Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair and wife Cherie avoided paying £312,000 ($423,000) in tax when they bought a £6.45 million ($8.74 million) London townhouse in 2017 by buying the offshore company that owned it.

On the other side of the world, the Australia Tax Office said on Monday that it would also be analyzing the information in the Pandora Papers "to identify any possible Australian links."

Georg Szalai in London contributed to this THR report.