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Deerfield Community Reacts to King Abdullah II ’80’s Secret $106 mil. Properties
Khanh Nguyen '23 Associate Editor
November 2, 2021

On October 3, 2021, the world erupted in outrage as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) leaked almost 12 million documents exposing the secret transactions of influential figures through an extensive network of shell corporations and offshore accounts. The leaked documents, collectively referred to as the Pandora Papers, were gathered by more than 600 journalists from 117 countries that have investigated the hidden fortunes of 35 current and former national leaders, 400 public officials from nearly 100 countries, and more than 100 billionaires. 

Credit: Deerfield Communications

King Abdullah II ’80, one of the prominent figures on the list and a notable Deerfield alumnus, came under heightened scrutiny after an alliance of international news organizations exposed his $106 million dollars worth of properties scattered throughout the affluent neighborhoods of Malibu, Washington D.C., and London. The documents detailing the monarch’s purchases showed that the transactions spanned from 2003 to 2017, and most of the properties were acquired after the “Arab Spring” of 2011: a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions responding to government corruption and economic stagnation in the Middle East. 

In contrast to the monarch’s lavish real estate holdings, Jordan is a nation plagued with economic destitution, high unemployment rates, and soaring government debt. According to The World Factbook published by the CIA, from 2010 to 2017, Jordan’s GDP growth rate was averaged at 2.5%, which declined to 2% in 2019 due to regional turmoil. The country also relied on programs provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) such as the Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which provides assistance to nations struggling with government debt and the balance of payments. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened Jordan’s conditions, plummeting employment rates and skyrocketing federal debt to staggering levels; the World Bank estimated that the Jordanian economy contracted by 1.6% while the unemployment rate rose 24.7% compared to previous years.

The Pandora Papers’ recent leakage also prompted accusations towards the government’s hypocrisy: in June 2020, the Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz, appointed by King Abdullah, investigated citizens who had used offshore shell companies to disguise their overseas investments. Due to the need to respond to COVID-19’s impact on the nation’s economy, the government asserted that they would track down every citizen who hid their wealth and expose all offshore funds to the public.

However, despite the perception of making offshore purchases through shell corporations being illegal, it is an acceptable practice in Jordan. Influential figures and corporations utilize these methods to securely acquire properties from abroad, taking advantage of lower taxes and less stringent regulations. In fact, the Hashemite Court and the King’s lawyers insisted that his actions are unsurprising and expected. As a justification, the Royal Hashemite Court has issued a following statement clarifying the monarch’s actions:

“It is no secret that His Majesty owns a number of apartments and residences in the United States and the United Kingdom. This is not unusual nor improper. His Majesty uses these properties during official visits and hosts officials and foreign dignitaries there. The King and his family members also stay in some of these properties during private visits…,” they stated. “Any allegations that link these private properties to public funds or assistance are baseless and deliberate attempts to distort facts…. All public finances and international assistance are subject to professional audits, and their allocations are fully accounted for by the government and donor entities.” 

Whether allegations of corruption and hypocrisy directed towards His Majesty are true, it is generally understood that the monarch has shown immense dedication towards promoting humanitarian initiatives in Jordan and abroad. 

On September 18, 2019, His Majesty returned to Deerfield Academy in the hopes of  informing the Deerfield community about recent turmoils happening in the Middle East. During his presentation in a school meeting, he specifically focused on the rising influx of Syrian refugees in Jordan. As early as 2016, Jordan has provided refuge for more than 1.3 million Syrians suffering from the ravages of war, serving as a beacon of hope in the midst of chaos.

On July 8, 2021, Deerfield’s The Pulse also posted an article by The Hill informing the community of the monarch’s role in preventing corruption and promoting a democratic atmosphere in Jordan. Jordan, previously ruled under an absolute monarchy, has transitioned towards a constitutional monarchy in 1952, yet the lengthy transitional process can serve as a breeding ground for nepotism and favouritism between government officials already nested in power. In response, His Majesty implemented a program of decentralization and contributed to passing the Decentralization and Municipality laws in 2015 in order to “to transfer a range of powers, responsibilities and resources from central to sub-national authorities.” As part of Jordan’s Democratization Program, the decentralization process divides the nation into three regions, with each region possessing its own elected council that will handle the political, social, legal, and economic affairs of its area. These efforts from the King’s government served to bring governmental power closer to its citizens by allowing better representation to cater to its citizens’ needs.

His Majesty has also played a pivotal role in promoting progressive education in Jordan. Inspired by his experiences as a student during his time at the Academy, King Abdullah founded King’s Academy alongside Deerfield’s former headmaster Eric Widmer. The educational program in King’s Academy closely mirrors that of Deerfield, in addition to certain traditions such as sit-down meals, co-curricular activities, and Harkness discussions that foster unity and empathy among the student body. He has also endorsed exchange opportunities between Deerfield Academy and King’s Academy, allowing Deerfield students to further their knowledge on Arabic language and culture, and bridging the gap between students from Western and Arabic worlds.

Tomás Cushman ’22 echoed this statement, “The people who are actively seeking the King until his demise are oblivious to the fact that his family has kept Jordan safe for decades from political extremists, and often lead in providing refuge for refugees from the violence in the Middle East. King Abdullah is in fact, one of the more lenient rulers in the Middle East, and embodies the ideals of democracy more so than other Middle Eastern country rulers. Therefore these accusations of corruption and hypocrisy are baseless in their evidence, and have not taken into account the things King Abdullah has done for his country.”

Others believed that the public should not be concerned with the King’s wealth and private pursuits, as he holds the legal rights as the monarch of his nation. Jeffery Han ’23 said, “As the Sovereign of Jordan, he has the moral and legal rights to use his own private wealth. Even though it may seem morally dubious, Jordan and many Middle Eastern countries adhere to the idea of a nation-state; therefore as sovereign, he represents the state. I believe that regardless of the situation’s moral issue, he should not be prosecuted for the same actions many other monarchs engage in.” 

Rosnel Leyva-Cortes ’22, on the other hand, was less accepting of the Royal Court’s justification: 

“Utilizing shell companies and censoring mass media indicate that you want to hide something from the public eye. It’s the same thing where, if you’re in the States, you have corporations and affluent figures hiding their money from illegitimate sources in offshore banking accounts in Switzerland.”

He also added “As somebody who has presented himself as a benevolent and empathetic ruler, I personally think that it is quite reckless of him to be involved in such transactions. The last time he was on campus, he appeared to be a paragon for freedom and stability in the Middle East, and to some degree, I believed him. However, after knowing his involvement with shell corporations despite Jordan’s economic state, I have now lost trust in him.”

Others preferred to remain neutral, refraining from commenting out of respect for the monarch’s past contributions to Deerfield Academy. 

Vasu Singh ’23 said, “I think it is best not to comment on His Majesty’s actions before we manage to fully grasp the details of this complex situation. The King of Jordan has shown to be a valuable member of the Deerfield community, making positive contributions not only to the Academy but also beyond. Criticizing him may result in unnecessary consequences, and can complicate the healthy relationship between Deerfield and King’s Academy.”