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Image of Jordanian king's property that undercut father figure

Jordan's King Abdullah II met with the president of the World Bank to ask for more financial support for the country's struggling economy. Just as the news broke, a cache of leaked documents revealed that the king had secretly purchased more than a dozen luxury homes in America and Britain for over $100million in the past decade.

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Image of Jordanian king's property that undercut father figure

Abdullah was just one of many public figures who were identified as having hidden offshore accounts. There was perhaps no more obvious contradiction than that between the private man and the public man. The king has worked hard to project the image of a loving father to a struggling nation and it turns out that he has built an empire of luxury real property.

Dave Harden, a former top official at the U.S. Agency for International Development and now running for Congress in Maryland as a Democrat. Even a perception of misspend could lead to calls to increase oversight of American assistance to Jordan in the future.

According to Sunday's report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalismists, Abdullah was among a long list of politicians, billionaires and celebrities who had been hiding their investments in mansions and exclusive beachfront properties, yachts and other assets over the past quarter century.

Based on an analysis of almost 12 million files from 14 companies around the globe, the report was called the "Pandora Papers." It did not contain any allegations of illegal activity, misuse or misappropriation of international aid money.

Abdullah was still in a difficult time, however, when the report was released. His leadership was criticized earlier this year by his half-brother, who accused the "ruling classes" of corruption. The country's economy is in serious trouble. Abdullah is seen by the West to be a force for moderation and stability in volatile Middle East. However, he relies on billions upon billions of dollars in international aid. This flow could be disrupted if the donors feel their money is being wasted.

Abdullah snarkily denied any wrongdoing and said that the homes were kept secret due to security concerns. They were bought with his personal funds.

Monday's statement by the Royal Hashemite Court stated that "any allegations linking these private properties to public funding or assistance are baseless"

It called such suggestions "defamatory" and said they were designed to attack Jordan's reputation, as well as his Majesty's credibility.

Abdullah doesn't appear to be under any immediate threat at home. His half-brother Crown Prince Hamzah made allegations of corruption and incompetence against Abdullah last April. He was immediately placed under house arrest.

Hamzah was last seen in public in December and is still incommunicado. Two ex-top aides were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for their role in an alleged plot against Hamzah.

The Pandora Papers scandal was not mentioned by Jordanian media outlets, which are largely controlled or directly controlled by the palace. Independent media outlets in Jordan engage in self-censorship and avoid criticism of the royal family or security forces.

Over the past decade Jordan's economy has been in trouble. It was hit by a flood of refugees fleeing war zones like Syria, and more recently by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the World Bank Jordan's economy contracted slightly last ye, while unemployment rose to 25%. Ten million people live in a country divided into a small middle class and an upper class, with close ties and government ties, and the impoverished masses who live in slums, remote villages, and refugee camps.

Maisara Malas, an activist unionist who joined antigovernment protests for lower taxes and ending corruption, stated that "when anyone lives in hardship and difficult conditions, it is difficult to imagine their rulers living comfortably."

Abdullah, who was elected to power in 1999 following the death of King Hussein's father, sought to bridge these worlds by presenting himself as a father figure.

He doesn't flaunt his wealth. He spends long periods abroad, but he does it quietly and in undisclosed locations.

To emphasize his Jordanian roots, he meets with influential tribal leaders in Jordan's backcountry. Many posters and billboards show the King wearing a red Arab headdress, or a military uniform.

Omar Razzaz (his former prime minister) launched a campaign to combat tax evasion and corruption last year.

Monday's visit by the King to Badia, south of Amman, was a result of his declaration that Jordan was under threat from destabilizing forces.

He said, "There is a campaign to attack Jordan and there are still people who want to sabotage the system and create suspicions." "There's nothing to hide."

Labib Kamhawi from Jordan, an analyst, stated that he didn't see any threat to the king due to the media blackout and the lack of internet access among the poorest. He said however that the scandal could become "very damaging" in the country as it spreads.

He said that the worst thing about it is that it could cause anger to donor countries. The Jordanian official Petra News Agency reported that the country received $5 billion in foreign assistance last year. This included both unrestricted budget aid and specifically earmarked grants. Over a quarter of this money was from the United States alone.

Kamhawi stated that "it is bound to affect Jordan's ability to solicit aid easily."

Jordan is too important for the international community to abandon as a strategic ally of the West and because it has a peace deal with Israel. This year, President Joe Biden called Abdullah a loyal and decent friend.

Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, declined to comment on Abdullah’s real estate holdings. However, he said that "When it comes down to our assistance to Jordan," he stated: "We have been helping to improve lives of the Jordanian citizens for more than six decades. To ensure that all assistance programs are implemented in accordance with their intended purpose, we carefully monitor and evaluate them.

Price stated that American assistance to Jordan is in America's national security interests because it helps Jordan secure its borders, promote stability, and counter the Islamic State group.

Harden, a former U.S. official in aid, stated that it is a common concern within the profession that aid ends up being misused, and corrupt leaders are supported instead of ordinary people. To avoid this, money should be earmarked for development projects and closely supervised.

He said that he expected a "serious evaluation" of unrestricted assistance to Jordan, but that he expects money will continue to flow to programs with strict safeguards. He said that the revelations in the Pandora Papers were bad news for the king.

He said, "It cuts against what we are trying for,"

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