Is Your Neighbor a Shell Company?

By Ilya Lozovsky and Miranda Patrucic

Wealthy, powerful, and corrupt people around the world have long used secretive offshore companies to hide their wealth.

Much of it is in high-end properties — the iconic, the historical, or merely the very expensive — that no one knows they own.

Scroll down for one just-discovered example…

a drawn map with London, UK, highlighteda drawn map with Washington, USA, highlighteda drawn map with Malibu, USA, highlighteda drawn map with the British Virgin Islands highlighted
a drawn map with London, UK, highlighteda drawn map with Washington, USA, highlighteda drawn map with Malibu, USA, highlighteda drawn map with the British Virgin Islands highlighted

London is one of the world's hottest destinations for foreign real estate buyers.

Between 2003 and 2005...

...a mysterious buyer acquired three expensive properties in the center of the city.

In 2008, he bought two more just outside Greater London.

And in 2011, he acquired three more in the city.

The mysterious buyer didn't stop in London.

He purchased three adjacent condos in the prestigious DC neighborhood of Georgetown — and turned them into one.

He did the same thing in California...

...with much larger properties.

This mysterious buyer hid his identity offshore...

...behind twelve companies registered in the British Virgin Islands

But a new leak of offshore documents enabled reporters to learn who was behind them all.

King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan

Jordanian authorities have promised to crack down on corruption. The country — one of the poorest in the region — has received hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. But that has not stopped the king from amassing a collection of real estate worth over $100 million.

Lawyers who responded to reporters' inquiries on the king's behalf said that there was nothing improper about owning homes through offshore companies.

Click here to read the Washington Post's full story about the King and his properties.

The Pandora Papers

The King of Jordan is, of course, not alone.

The leak of secretive offshore records known as the 'Pandora Papers' — obtained by ICIJ and shared with media partners around the world, including OCCRP — contains 2.94 terabytes of information in nearly 12 million records.

These documents offer unprecedented insight into how monarchs, oligarchs, officials, and criminals have used these jurisidictions to hide their wealth.

One especially revelatory area is real estate.

In the United Kingdom alone 716 offshore firms...

...own 1,542 properties worth over $5.5 billion.

This analysis — compiled by the Guardian, the BBC, and Finance Uncovered, with help from ICIJ — could only be done in the United Kingdom because the government has published a list of offshore property owners.

Information from the Pandora Papers was then used to find out who was behind many of these secretive companies.

Additional research by media partners in other countries used a variety of databases to find more luxury properties, and their owners, all over the world.

OCCRP's main findings are below.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has campaigned for re-election on an anti-graft platform. He has also used offshore shell companies to move millions of euros through the international financial system and invest them in luxury French real estate, leaked documents show.

The assets included a chateau in Mougins, a town in the French Riviera where Picasso spent the last years of his life. Babiš' wife has posted images of herself with friends and family in the property's swimming pool, which features spectacular seaside views.

The documents show how Babiš used a British Virgin Islands-based shell company to loan 15 million euros to other companies he owned in the U.S. and Monaco before it was invested in France.

Read the full story on our website...

Azerbaijan's Ruling Aliyev Family

Previous reporting has shown that the two daughters of Azerbaijan's authoritarian president Aliyev owned luxurious European properites.

But the Pandora Papers show that the family's property empire is much bigger than that. Between them, the president’s daughters, his son, his father-in-law, and two of the family’s associates own dozens of previously unknown offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.

These companies hold a staggering amount of wealth. At their peak, they owned nearly $700 million in London real estate — including prominent historical buildings in the center of the city, commercial developments, and luxury apartments in prestigious neighborhoods.

Read the full story on our website...

How Two Brothers Took Over a Croatian Island

In 2014 two wealthy but elusive Croatian brothers and their business partners secretly bought up a portfolio of luxurious properties on Lošinj, one of Croatia’s largest and most charming islands in the northern Adriatic. For at least six years their compatriots lived in a lie that unknown Russian capital was behind the investments that made the bay a playground for the wealthy.

But the Pandora Papers show that a Russian bank managed the portfolio’s holding company on behalf of the brothers, one of whom is known to be close to Vladimir Putin, before it was transferred into a shadowy trust set up in Hong Kong.

In the end the trust’s service provider cut ties with the brothers over compliance fears. But the family still owns the hotels, villas and restaurants – assets valued at around 238 million euros in 2018 – dotted around Lošinj.

The Inner Circle of Ukraine's President Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rode to power on pledges to clean up the Eastern European country.
But the Pandora Papers reveal he and his partners in comedy production owned a network of offshore companies related to their business based in the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, and Belize.
Zelensky’s current chief aide, Serhiy Shefir, as well as Ivan Bakanov, the head of the country’s Security Service, were part of the offshore network.
The offshore companies were used by Shefir and another business partner to buy pricey London real estate.
Around the time of his 2019 election, Zelensky handed his shares in a key offshore company over to Shefir, but the two appear to have made an arrangement for Zelensky’s family to continue receiving money from the offshore.

Read the full story on our website...

Many other secretive property owners have been revealed in the Pandora Papers.

Explore more stories below.


The Pandora Papers is a global investigation into the global offshore industry, examining nearly 12 million leaked files from 14 service providers. The project was coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), in collaboration with over 600 journalists — more than 70 of them from OCCRP’s network — in 117 countries.

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Ilya Lozovsky and Miranda Patrucic

Tamas Szemann and James O'Brien

Joris Heijkant

Mark Nightingale