Oct 5, 2021 - World

The Pandora Papers PR war

A supporter of Jordan's King Abdullah II is seen holding his photo outside the White House.

A supporter of Jordan's King Abdullah II is seen outside the White House in July. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

In the days before the Pandora Papers exposed details of his foreign real estate holdings, King Abdullah II of Jordan retained a white-shoe law firm from the U.S. with an eye toward potential defamation claims, records show.

Why it matters: The records provide a glimpse into how some of the world's most powerful people have braced for fallout from a massive media investigation. It's exposed the ways the ultra-wealthy manage — and, in some cases, conceal — their substantial assets.

What's new: A week before a consortium of news organizations began publishing stories based on the Pandora Papers leak, Jordan's Royal Hashemite Court inked a contract with the prominent law firm DLA Piper.

  • Under the agreement, detailed in Foreign Agents Registration Act filings unearthed by OpenSecrets, DLA Piper will provide "legal advice related to potential defamation and other legal remedies associated with inquiries and/or articles concerning His Majesty King Abdullah II from media outlets."
  • It's enlisted Mary Elizabeth Gately, a partner at the firm and co-head of its Washington, D.C., litigation group, who charges $1,335 per hour, according to FARA records.
  • Gately did not respond to inquiries from Axios about her work. King Abdullah's office also did not respond to a request for comment left through its website.
  • When outlets including the Washington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published stories about Abdullah's finances, DLA Piper provided a response.
  • In denied "any implication that there is something improper about [Abdullah’s] ownership of property through companies in offshore jurisdictions."

The big picture: The Pandora Papers investigation revealed extensive details about hidden assets owned by wealthy individuals around the world, including elected officials and heads of state.

  • It's already spurred calls in the U.S. to crack down on opaque international financial flows.
  • "Disclosures within the Pandora Papers are the clearest demonstration yet of the historic threat posed by foreign corruption," Reps. John Curtis (R-Utah) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy, wrote in a joint statement on Tuesday.
  • "Billions of dollars of dirty money belonging to adversarial actors are flooding the United States, undermining our national security," they wrote. "It is imperative that we take all necessary measures to stem this tide."

Between the lines: That sort of intense scrutiny poses significant reputational and policy risks for government officials caught up in the Pandora Papers fallout. For many, the risk is even more pronounced in their home countries.

  • Jordan, for example, is the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid, which helps stabilize a country that hosts millions of refugees but lacks the wealth of other regional monarchies. The latest revelations risk public backlash that Abdullah can scarcely afford.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's 2019 election was powered by public discontent over political corruption, which has been a chronic obstacle to Ukraine's accession into the EU and NATO.
  • The Pandora Papers found Zelensky and his inner circle owned a network of offshore companies, potentially undermining his credibility on reform. Ukraine topped the list of countries with the most individuals named in the investigation.
  • The scandal is perhaps most acute for Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who was named in the papers in the same week he is up for re-election. The Czech police have opened an investigation.
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