How Queen Elizabeth II is Caught Up in the Pandora Papers

Queen Elizabeth II has been named in coverage of the Pandora Papers over a $91 million property deal featuring an estate which provides her official public funding.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has shed light on the financial arrangements of the rich and powerful around the world based on a leak of millions of secret documents.

One revelation has named The Crown Estate, nominally owned by the Monarch, as being involved in a property deal that landed $42 million profit for a trust linked to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Under Aliyev the former Soviet Republic has been accused of human rights abuses and systemic corruption, The Guardian reported.

There is even the suggestion there could be grounds for a money laundering investigation to determine whether dirty money was involved at any stage.

The Crown Estate has launched a review of the deal, however, and the queen's relationship with the organization is complicated.

While it does provide the royal family's official public funding, she does not directly profit from it and she is not involved in management decisions.

Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral
Queen Elizabeth II at the Balmoral Estate Cricket Pavilion on October 1, 2021 near Crathie, Scotland. She is the nominal owner of The Crown Estate, which bought property associated with the president of Azerbaijan, according to the Pandora Papers investigation. Andrew Milligan-WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Crown Estate

The Crown Estate is owned by Elizabeth in her capacity as sovereign but she is not involved in its day-to-day running.

All profits from its sprawling portfolio go to the U.K. treasury, though a portion is given back to the Royal Family as its official public funding.

In 2021, this grant amounted to $117 million, or 25 percent of the profits from the estate, including an extra 10 percent to cover re-servicing at Buckingham Palace.

The estate's website reads: "The Crown Estate is though owned by the Monarch in right of the Crown. This means that the Queen owns it by virtue of holding the position of reigning Monarch, for as long as she is on the throne, as will her successor.

"Responsibility for managing The Crown Estate is trusted to us, under the Crown Estate Act, and the Queen is not involved in management decisions."

The distinction means the fallout from the Pandora Papers will fall on the U.K. government at least as much as Elizabeth herself, whose benefit from the deal is indirect.

The Pandora Papers

The revelation about the estate was contained among a leak of 12 million documents from 14 financial services companies operating around the world.

The Guardian and BBC are among 150 news outlets who have been given access as part of a partnership of more than 600 journalists working together to examine the files over two years.

Reporters identified that The Crown Estate bought a property, 56-60 Conduit Street, in London, for $91 million dollars in August 2018, earning the seller a $42 million profit.

The building had been legally owned by an offshore company, Hiniz Trade and Investment Ltd, however, the Pandora Papers reveal the beneficial owner was President Aliyev's son, Heydar, who was 11 years old at the point it was acquired in 2009, The Guardian reported.

It was then passed to the President's daughter, Arzu Aliyeva, before moving onto her grandfather Arif Pashayev before being placed into a trust in 2015, The Guardian reported.

Quoted in the newspaper, Dylan Kennedy, a former UK law enforcement officer, said: "The onward sale of any property that had originally been purchased with potentially dirty funds completes the money laundering cycle, by providing a fresh paper trail that effectively legitimises the proceeds.

"In this case, if the source of funds is shown to be questionable, the sale of a property to the crown estate is the pinnacle of legitimisation."

A spokesperson for The Crown Estate said: "Before our purchase of 56-60 Conduit Street, we conducted checks including those required by UK law. At the time we did not establish any reason why the transaction should not proceed. Given the potential concerns raised, we are looking into the matter."