by Joseph Federman
JERUSALEM (AP) — Jordan’s King Abdullah was meeting with the president of the Second World Bank, calling for more financial aid for his country’s battered economy, just at the time the news broke: a raft of leaked documents The troop revealed that the king had secretly bought more than one. Dozens of luxury homes for over $100 million in the US and UK over the past decade.
Abdullah was one of the public figures identified as the holders of hidden offshore accounts. But perhaps nowhere was the more apparent contrast between the public and the private, as King has carefully crafted an image as the caring father of a struggling nation, and it turns out that he owned a wealth of luxury real estate. Private empire has accumulated.
“No one is going to turn a blind eye to this,” said Dave Harden, a former senior official with the US Agency for International Development who is now running for Congress as a Democrat in Maryland. He added that even the misplaced spending assumption could lead to Jordan requiring more monitoring of US aid in the future.
According to a report on Sunday, Abdullah was on a long list of world leaders, politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers who have been making their way to mansions, exclusive beachfront properties, yachts and other properties over the past quarter century. Hiding investments. by the International Association of Investigative Journalists.
The report was dubbed the “Pandora Papers” based on a review of approximately 12 million files received from 14 firms around the world. There were no allegations of illegal activity or misuse of international aid funds.
Still, the report came at a critical time for Abdullah. The country’s economy has struggled in recent years, and his leadership came under scrutiny earlier this year after his half-brother accused the “ruling class” of corruption. Seen by the West as a force of restraint and stability in the unstable Middle East, Abdullah relies on billions of dollars in international aid – a flow that can be interrupted if donors believe his aid is doomed. being done.
Abdullah angrily denied any wrongdoing, saying the houses were kept secret due to security concerns and were bought with personal money.
“Any allegation that links these private assets to public funds or aid is baseless and an attempt to deliberately distort facts,” the Royal Hashemite Court said in a statement on Monday.
It called any such suggestion “derogatory and designed to target Jordan’s reputation as well as the credibility of his majesty”.
In the short term, Abdullah does not face any danger in the house. When his half-brother, Crown Prince Hamza, made his allegations of corruption and incompetence last April, he was immediately placed under house arrest.
Hamza has since been seen in public only once and is still not in touch. Meanwhile, two former top aides have been sentenced to 15 years in prison for abetment and treason for their role in an alleged conspiracy with Hamza.
In a clear sign of concern, Jordanian media, most of which are directly or indirectly controlled by the palace, made no mention of the Pandora Papers case. Even independent Jordanian media outlets engage in self-censorship, avoiding criticism from the royal family and security forces.
Jordan’s economy has fallen on hard times over the past decade, fueled by an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in neighboring Syria and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
Jordan’s economy shrank slightly last year, while unemployment rose to 25%, according to the World Bank. The country, with a population of 10 million, is divided between a small middle and upper class, closely related to the government, and poor people living in city slums, outlying villages and refugee camps.
“When one lives in hardship, difficult conditions and extreme poverty, their rulers find it difficult to live in prosperous conditions,” said Maisara Malas, a union activist who has participated in anti-government protests to lower taxes and end corruption. have joined.
Abdullah, who took power in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hussein, has tried to step into these worlds by portraying himself as a father figure.
He is careful not to show off his wealth. Although he spends a long time abroad, he does so quietly, often in unknown places.
He meets with powerful tribal leaders in the hinterland of Jordan to outline his local roots. Posters in government offices and on billboards often show the king wearing a red Arab cap or military uniform.
Last year, his then prime minister, Omar Razzaz, launched an effort to crack down on tax evasion, corruption and “smuggling of money into tax havens”.
On Monday, the king met with tribal leaders and other dignitaries in Badia, an area south of the capital Amman where he said Jordan was being threatened by destabilizing forces.
“There is a campaign against Jordan, and there are still people who want to sabotage and create suspicion,” he said. “There’s nothing to hide.”
Labib Kamavi, a Jordanian analyst, said he did not see any immediate threat to the king, given the media blackouts and lack of internet access among the poorest. But he added that as news of the scam spread, it could be “very damaging” domestically.
But perhaps even more troubling, it may anger donor countries. According to Jordan’s official Petra News Agency, the country received nearly $5 billion in foreign aid last year in both unrestricted budget aid and specially earmarked grants. More than a quarter of this money came from the US alone.
“This is bound to affect Jordan’s ability to easily ask for aid,” Kamhawi said.
As a strategic Western ally and with a peace deal with Israel, Jordan is so important it should be abandoned by the international community. President Joe Biden called Abdullah a “loyal and decent friend” this year.
Harden, a former US aid official, said it is a common concern in the profession that aid is being misused. To avoid this, funds are often earmarked for specific development projects and closely monitored, he said.
He predicted a “serious review” of any unrestricted aid to Jordan, but said he expects funds to continue to flow into programs with tighter safeguards. Still, he said that the revelations in Pandora’s letters look bad for the king.
“It cuts against the core of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.