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Real Estate Corruption And Tax Avoidance Investigations Launch With Big Names In The Spotlight

The Plaza Hotel in New York is closed amid the coronavirus.

Corruption and tax avoidance were in the global media spotlight this weekend, with major real estate individuals and companies arrested or named in a major data leak similar to the Panama Papers.

In Saudi Arabia, billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was reportedly arrested as part of a corruption probe by the country’s ruling King Salman.

The world's 50th-richest man, Alwaleed is a major player in the hotel world. Kingdom Holdings, the listed company he controls, owns a majority interest in The Plaza in New York, the Savoy Hotel in London and the George V in Paris. It also owns a 5.7% stake in hotel giant Accor. Kingdom’s shares dropped by 9% on news of the arrest.

Alwaleed was one of several Saudi royals arrested in an investigation seen as part of a struggle for power between different branches of the Saudi royal family.

Separately, several high-profile real estate figures in the U.S. and U.K. were named in a huge data leak similar to 2016’s Panama Papers. The leak, dubbed the Paradise Papers, is related to the use of offshore tax havens to avoid tax.


The leak comprised 13.4 million documents obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a network of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries.

Parts of the leak pertinent to real estate relate to investor Penny Pritzker, and question whether she properly divested interests in her business when she took a position in Barack Obama’s cabinet.

“These transfers may have fallen short of federal ethics standards for divestment, according to ethics expert Lawrence Noble,” the ICIJ said. Pritzker did not return the group's requests for comment.

Blackstone and Colony NorthStar are cited for their use of vehicles registered in tax havens to buy assets, with particular attention paid to the firms because Blackstone Chief Executive Stephen Schwarzman and Colony CEO Tom Barrack are advisers to President Donald Trump, and the latter is a close friend. Both firms said the structures they had used were completely legal.

Elsewhere it was revealed that the Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate of Queen Elizabeth II that is primarily known as a landowner and property investor, had made offshore investments that were channeled back into retail businesses; that Irish singer Bono had been an investor in a Malta-based company that bought a shopping centre in Lithuania; and that a financier backed by a Russian state-owned bank had invested in Cadre, the PropTech business of the Kushner family.