AMMAN – Jordan’s foreign minister on Thursday pushed back against a report that the country’s monarch, King Abdullah II, went out of his way to hide the purchase of more than a dozen luxury homes worth more than $106 million, saying there was "nothing secretive” about the transactions.
Ayman Safadi also told The Associated Press that none of the billions of dollars of international aid the kingdom has received over the years were used to fund the purchases, and that strict safeguards are in place to prevent any abuses.
“Any insinuation that the financing of those properties came through illegal manners is also baseless, because his majesty paid from his personal funds for this,” he said. “Any attempt to link between these and donor money is again baseless because every cent in donor money is accounted for and audited by us and by the donors themselves."
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, citing information from a trove of leaked documents, reported earlier this week that Abdullah obtained the properties through offshore shell companies.
Advisers to the king “spared no effort to conceal his real estate holdings,” the report alleged. It said that accountants and lawyers for the king “concocted plans to shield his name from public and even confidential government registries.”
The consortium said it has reviewed close to 12 million leaked documents about offshore transactions, dubbed the “Pandora Papers.” Abdullah was one of scores of public figures from countries around the world who were identified as holders of hidden offshore accounts.
Abdullah's offshore dealings drew particular attention, along with those of several other bold-faced names. This may have been, in part, because of the contrast between his luxury real estate holdings and Jordan's heavy dependence on international aid and the nation's continued economic crisis.
The Royal Hashemite Court issued a statement earlier this week denying any impropriety. The king bought the properties in the United States and Britain from his own funds and details about them were being kept quiet for security and privacy reasons, the statement said.
Safadi, who is also deputy prime minister, said Thursday that “there is nothing secretive” about the purchases, which according to ICIJ took place over the past decade. He said that “accusations of secrecy that somehow insinuate wrongdoing are baseless.”
When asked about the optics of the ruler of one of the region's poorest countries owning multi-million-dollar homes, Safadi suggested the focus on the king was disproportionate.
Daoud Kuttab, an independent Jordanian journalist, said he believes it's all about perception.
“There isn't any claim of corruption here," he said. "There is a claim that the optics don't look good, in a country that depends on foreign aid, has high unemployment and at the same time the monarch has all these luxurious houses throughout the world.”
Kuttab, founder of the news site Amman Net, said that Jordan's security forces ordered him to remove a story about the ICIJ report on Sunday, about three hours after he had published it.
He said Amman Net had been the only Jordanian outlet to report the story at that time. Most Jordanian media are either state-run, state-controlled or run by journalists engaged in self-censorship, he said.
In the wake of the royal court statement Monday, Amman Net had a new story, other outlets published some details and commentary, and there was limited discussion on social media.
Safadi, a former journalist, denied the story had been suppressed, citing the detailed court statement.