The Panama Papers and Middle East Leaders’ Secret Bank Accounts

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

An anonymous source has handed over to a German newspaper massive amounts of data from the Panama-based, German-run law firm Mossack Fonseca. The firm specialized in providing clients with offshore accounts, which are typically used to avoid taxes or hide ill-gotten gains.

Given the enormous problem of corruption plaguing the Middle East, it will come as no surprise that the region features prominently in the new revelations. It remains to be seen whether they provoke unrest or are just quietly accepted as a fact of political life.

Initial reporting on the trove identified among the major political figures from the Middle East to possess such accounts were Alaa Mubarak (son of the deposed dictator), Ayad Allawi (former interim Iraqi prime minister under American occupation), Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, and Saudi King Salman.

As I explained in my recent book,
The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

the alleged corruption of Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, sons of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, was a frequent complaint of bloggers and critics in Egypt in the years leading up to the 2011 revolution. In its aftermath, investigators complained that although they suspected the Mubaraks of having squirreled away billions in ill-gotten gains, they were unable to track most of it down. Now we know why.

The Mubarak sons have been acquitted of most charges filed against them after the revolution, but still face trials over their alleged insider trading regarding state banks.

Given the lack of distinction in Saudi Arabia between state wealth and the personal fortune of the absolute monarch, it is no surprise if King Salman has a lot of money in secret bank accounts. You wonder if the revelation will have any repercussions inside the kingdom (certainly it is unlikely to be openly reported).

Likewise, hundreds of Israeli firms and stockholders were linked to these secret accounts. Again, it is not illegal to have an offshore account if one pays taxes on the money, but it is at least suspicious and worth looking into. Among Israelis who showed up with such an account was Dov Weisglass, former advisor to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert (the latter convicted of corruption). Of Weisglass I wrote in 2007,

“Of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, already growing last winter, Israeli adviser to the prime minister’s office Dov Weisglass joked, “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.” Of course they will. Anything that makes the healthy thinner has the potential of killing the sick and the very young.”

Weisglass was involved in blockading Gaza, in which the Israeli military, in the creepiest way imaginable, actually figured how many calories Palestinians there would be allowed so as to keep them on the edge of starvation but not actually have them die.

It is incredible that Israeli officials are waging such a vicious campaign against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at punishing Israel for its flouting of international law in the Occupied Territories, when Israel practices a deadly form of BDS against the Palestinians.

That Weisglass, a central figure in the blockade of children (half of Gaza’s residents are children), lives it up with a secret offshore Carribean account is why it is necessary to believe in hell. It is not like there is justice up here.

12 Responses

  1. Right wingers simply decide that money=virtue. So once the money is stolen it is deserved, and the more they steal, the more they deserve. What’s an honest gangster going to do without corruption?

  2. I thought I heard this story on NPR this morning… but they made it sound like it was Vladimir Putin and his cronies doing all the ‘shady banking’.

    • While I find it hypocritical that the westerm media is concentrating on the ‘link’ to Putin (note it is through friends) and to the chinese (I am currently in India the coverage on BBC and CNN is all focused on these two – Russia and China), I do not find it surprising. This is a convenient tool to keep the spotlight away from Cameron, and the western allies. I also find it surprising that not ONE US citizen has surfaced!!

  3. These papers are just confirmation of something the late George Carlin said a long time ago, “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”

  4. Notice how the current enemies of the US establishment are immediately highlighted. Our oligarchs would never be involved in such shady dealings. Duh!

  5. I looked at a list of countries whose citizens were involved in the this and the US and Israel were notably missing from the list. Apparently, both nations are completely populated by Boy Scouts and total idiots (for not taking advantage of the opportunities). Really????

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