Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Monday that he had not been improper in purchasing luxury homes overseas. This was to contain a growing scandal over reports of extravagant spending during a time when his country is struggling to recover from recession and cope with rising unemployment.
Sunday’s revelations of property purchases worth over $100 million came at a sensitive time for Abdullah. His popularity was shattered earlier in the year when his half brother accused him of corruption. This could also upset Jordan’s relationship with the international community. Although the country is seen as a stable and pro-Western bulwark within a volatile region, it still relies on billions of dollars in aid. This was emphasized by the fact Abdullah was in the United States to meet with the president the World Bank at the time the report was published.
International Consortium of Investigative Journalismists made the purchases public. It reported that hundreds of politicians, celebrities, billionaires, religious leaders, and drug dealers had been hiding their investments in yachts, exclusive beachfront properties, and other assets for more than a quarter-century.
Abdullah claimed that he did not speak out about transactions reported due to security concerns. Abdullah also stated that no public funds were used.
“Any allegations linking these private properties to public money or assistance are baseless” a Royal Hashemite Court statement Monday.
It called such suggestions “defamatory” and said they were designed to attack Jordan’s reputation, as well as his Majesty’s credibility.
The palace was not concerned about the report. Jordanian media, which are largely controlled directly or indirectly by the palace, did not mention it. Independent media outlets in Jordan engage in self-censorship and avoid criticism of the monarch, the royal family, or the security forces.
READ MORE ABOUT THE ‘PANDORA PAPERS’
According to the consortium, the report is based upon a review of close to 12 million files from 14 companies located all over the globe. The “Pandora Papers”, as it is commonly known, sheds light on the past hidden dealings of elite and corrupt officials and how they used offshore accounts to protect assets totalling trillions of dollars.
Abdullah was the subject of the investigation. The investigation revealed that advisers helped Jordan’s king to set up at most three dozen shell companies between 1995 and 2017, which allowed the monarch to buy 14 homes in the U.S., including 14 homes valued over $106 million. One of these properties was a $23million California ocean-view property purchased in 2017 through a British Virgin Islands firm. They were identified as an English accountant based in Switzerland and British Virgin Islands lawyers.
Abdullah claimed that there was nothing untoward about the purchases and that security dictated that he keep the transactions secret. Abdullah stated that the properties were used often for official functions.
The palace stated that these properties were not made public due to security and privacy concerns and not because of secrecy, or an attempt to hide, as some reports claimed. For a head-of-state of His Majesty, it is crucial to take measures to protect his privacy.
According to the statement, the report by the consortium on His Majesty’s real estate portfolio was a “flagrant security violation and a threat for His Majesty’s safety and that of his family.”
Jordan is a crucial Western ally in Middle East where it is seen to be a voice for moderation and stability. Its economy has suffered during Abdullah’s two-decade rule. This was made worse by the recent influx of hundreds and thousands of Syrian refugees as well as the coronavirus epidemic. Over the years, Jordan has received billions in international aid to stabilize its founding economy.
This report was made while Abdullah was hosting the President of the World Bank who was visiting the Kingdom to discuss its economy. The World Bank had announced earlier this year a $1.1 billion package to help Jordan with its response to the pandemic. According to official figures, unemployment has risen to 25%.
Abdullah’s government was shaken by scandal earlier in the year when his halfbrother, ex-Crown Prince Hamzah, accused “ruling system” corruption and incompetence. The King claimed that he was the victim in a “malicious conspiracy”, placed Hamzah under house arrest, and brought two of his close aides to trial.
Hamzah was last seen in public in April after the scandal broke. He is still out of touch with the king, who “protects” him.
Independent Jordanian analyst Amer Sabeileh said that Sunday’s report was not favorable for the King, considering the kingdom’s economic hardships and the government’s credibility and image issues following the Hamzah scandal.
He said, “It arrives at a time when frustration amongst the people is at its peak, and government is suffering from serious shortages of credibility in the entire political system.”
Another analyst, Labib Kamhawi, stated that it was too early to make any conclusions about the long-term health of the king, but it would raise eyebrows globally.
He said, “It is bound affect the Jordanian ability to solicit aid easily.” It will not be business as usual as long as this information remains worldwide.