Julio Iglesias used shell companies to build real estate empire

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Pandora Papers

Millions of leaked documents and the biggest journalism partnership in history uncover the financial secrets of world leaders as well as Miami’s rich, powerful and celebrated.

You might know Julio Iglesias as a globetrotting Latin lover, or Julio Iglesias the multilingual crooner of romantic ballads. But do you know Julio Iglesias, the Miami real estate tycoon?

The Spaniard has owned a home in greater Miami for decades, and is a celebrity who still draws a crowd in South Florida and across Latin America. A giant leak of secret offshore shell company documents shows Iglesias and his family are more anchored to South Florida than most knew, buying nearly a dozen high-priced properties that collectively are worth between $100 million and $120 million.

Working with a Miami real estate attorney, Iglesias used offshore services provider Trident Trust to create a web of offshore shell companies in the British Virgin Islands that camouflage his ownership of the South Florida properties. Some are in beach areas but several are on exclusive Indian Creek Island, dubbed Billionaire’s Island or Billionaire’s Bunker.

Shell companies often make it nearly impossible to determine who owns what — an advantage to money launderers, people trying to minimize or avoid tax liabilities — or rich and famous people who simply want to keep everyone else from knowing what they own. Having a foreign entity own property in the United States also makes it harder for courts to order the seizure of assets.

In recent years, starting with a massive leak of documents called the Panama Papers, published in April 2016, the secrecy afforded shell companies has been stripped away. The U.S. Treasury Department now also requires greater reporting about owners when shell companies purchase property without a mortgage in Miami, New York and a few other big metro areas. Although the Treasury Department is privy to the details, the public is not.

Iglesias’ shell-company documents were found amid the 11.9 million documents from 14 offshore service providers that were leaked and collectively make up the Pandora Papers. More than 600 reporters across the globe, including from the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, spent nearly two years poring over the documents under the umbrella of the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Iglesias turned 78 in late September, and is often recognized as one of Europe’s most successful singers, whose sales have topped more than 100 million records, CDs and digital recordings worldwide during a career that spanned over half a century.

It wasn’t music that first launched him into the spotlight. He was a professional soccer player in his early years and played goalkeeper for Real Madrid Castilla between 1960 and 1963 until a car accident left him unable to walk for an extended period. He has nine children, including pop superstar Enrique Iglesias.

The most valuable properties belonging to the Iglesias family are located on Indian Creek Island, whose 34 waterfront mansions surround an 18-hole golf course located in the center. The island, whose dwellings are known to have gone for $30 million or more, is home to some of the wealthiest and best-known public figures, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima, billionaire Carl Icahn and car magnate Norman Braman. Recent reports indicate Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have bought there, though they’ve neither confirmed nor denied it.

Julio Iglesias, international singing phenomenon and South Florida real estate magnate.

Although the family’s control of multiple properties on Indian Creek Island was not a secret, the fact that they were owned through shell companies wasn’t widely known. The first of the five was purchased in 1978, records show. All but one are vacant lots.

One was sold last year for $32 million. That sale appears to have earned Iglesias at least $11 million in profit. The family had purchased it in 2014 through a British Virgin Islands corporation called Somerville II, with Julio’s second wife, the former Dutch model Miranda Rijnsburger, signing as the authorized officer of the shell company.

That sale left the family with three empty lots and one waterfront house on the island, with each 80,000-square-foot vacant parcel likely worth tens of millions. The residence, constructed on a smaller lot of 53,000 square feet, is valued at $23 million.

At the time he first bought on Indian Creek Island, Iglesias was living on a lush waterfront property in Miami — next to a home owned by the Gibb brothers, Robin, Barry and Maurice, collectively the Bee Gees. Iglesias was attracted to the island because of its seclusion, according to his then-manager, Alfredo Frailes.

Indian Creek was so exclusive that Iglesias had a hard time getting approval to move in. To be able to reside on Indian Creek Island, the applicant first had to be approved as a member of the golf club, which in essence served as a tight-knit filter for the community, Frailes wrote in his 2014 memoirs. At the time of his initial purchase, many Miami-area private clubs had a tradition of excluding minorities, especially Blacks and Jews.

“Iglesias was submitted to a harsh interview and a very detailed background check,” Frailes wrote. “He was thoroughly investigated in order to find out who he was and what were his habits.”

View of lots 4, 5, 6 and 7 at Indian Creek Island Rd. Indian Creek, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Pedro Portal [email protected]

The family’s investments in South Florida real estate are not limited to the island. The Iglesiases bought other properties of lesser but still significant value in nearby Surfside, including six homes each registering a market value of between $1 million and $2 million. Each deal was done through shell companies, with a different company appearing as the owner of each property purchased.

The fact that each property is registered under a different company name makes them hard to trace, and it is possible the family’s real estate holdings in South Florida include more units than the ones identified here. One telltale sign is the repeated use of 901 Surfside Boulevard, Surfside, Florida, as the mailing address for purchases.

That address belongs to a home registered to one of the Iglesiases’ companies, Mirasurf, whose mailing address is the same as its physical address. But other shell companies have different houses registered under them, including Garland 9065 Property LTD, Miravista LTD, Homestead Property LTD and Surfside 825 Limited.

A Herald reporter visited the 901 Surfside home, which features a neatly manicured lawn. No one answered, nor did notes left there elicit a response. Iglesias confidant and tour coordinator Raluca Bogdan also did not return requests for comment from several reporting partners.

The 901 Surfside address has also been used by Iglesias’ twin daughters Victoria and Cristina. In November 2019 they incorporated a Florida company using that address called Sweeza LLC, but in February 2021 dissolved it saying it was never put into use. Another company called Touring Management LLC also uses that address in Florida corporate records, with his real estate lawyer on the document.

In the Pandora Papers, Iglesias’ Miami real-estate lawyer, Russell L. King, also corresponds with Trident about J.I. Invesco, another Iglesias offshore whose name would suggest an investment structure. And in June 2015, the records show, he answered questions from the British Virgin Islands’ Financial Investigative Agency, providing a copy of Iglesias’ Spanish passport and other details about the Iglesias company International Concert Ltd.

The Iglesiases also had a large property in Homestead built on a two-acre lot, but it was sold in April for $900,000.

While most of the transactions can be traced in the Pandora Papers and property records to Miranda Rijnsburger, whose signature appears in documents ranging from loans to repair contracts, most of the Trident documents tied to Iglesias involve King.

Overall, King appears in 468 documents in the Pandora Papers, the earliest dating to 2009 before he started his own firm, the last in 2015.

In an interview, King declined to discuss the numerous properties he helped Iglesias purchase using anonymous offshore shell companies with generic-sounding names like Miracreek, Mirasurf, Miravista and Mirasong.

“I don’t represent Mr. Iglesias with regard to the subject matter so I am not going to be able to provide much clarity for you given that I don’t,” King said, referring questions of Iglesias’ holdings to the crooner.

Asked if he still represented Iglesias, who as recently as December made headlines in the Miami Herald for putting an Indian Creek Island property on the market — with an initial asking price of $37 million — King responded, “I am not at liberty to discuss any contact that I may have had with present or former clients.”

The lawyer was more loquacious about his high-profile client in 2016 when it was announced that Iglesias properties on the market at that time were being pulled off. King spoke to the South Florida Reporter and confirmed the move and noted that “if someone comes to my office with an offer close to the asking price, I’ll bring it to my client.”

An aerial view of Indian Creek Island, home to singer Julio Iglesias and other rich and famous Floridians. Pedro Portal [email protected]

Reporters tried to reach a Trident lawyer in Atlanta who worked closely with King on numerous Iglesias shell companies, but she did not return a request for comment.

Over the weekend, Trident sent a letter to the Miami Herald, threatening litigation.

Speaking broadly about his clients, King said anonymity in real estate transactions can benefit celebrities. One benefit, he said, is that if their name is known, the price for a property being purchased might go up. And, he said, “for privacy reasons, they don’t want people showing up at their doorsteps.”

What tax benefits Iglesias might get from the offshore company ownership is difficult to determine, precisely why shell companies are controversial. Iglesias’ Spanish passport and his wife’s Dutch passport are in the Pandora Papers, and documents list their residence as Punta Cana, the resort city in the Dominican Republic. The couple also layers shell companies on top of each other, with one shell company owning another and the shareholder being a complex legal structure called a revocable trust.

Iglesias has been grilled in past years in Spain, amid criticism that he avoids paying taxes in the country where he was born. The singer, who does not reside in Spain, claims that he has paid all due taxes in each country where he has been involved. “I have never refrained from paying a bloody tax anywhere in the world. Where I sing, I pay taxes,” Iglesias told the Spanish press in 2015.

“In the Dominican Republic, I have a company that pays 31% in taxes. What I earn in Spain, I declare in Spain, but what I earn in the rest of the world I don’t declare here because I don’t live here,” he said, while acknowledging that Spanish taxes are high in relation to the ones in other countries.

Because shell companies are so obtuse, it’s hard to tell what company has tax obligations where.

Documents found in the Pandora Papers show King’s connection to other clients. He was involved in the creation of a company in the British Virgin Islands called GEHC Limited, which was owned by Raúl Gorrín, a Venezuelan businessman with close ties to strongman Nicolás Maduro.

Gorrín lived in a lush residence in the exclusive Cocoplum neighborhood in Coral Gables until his ties with Maduro were exposed. He fled to Venezuela months before the U.S. introduced criminal charges against him in South Florida derived from an alleged corruption scheme that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from the Venezuelan treasury. King’s representation of Gorrín took place before charges were brought against the Venezuelan.

Cautioning that he was not speaking about his client Iglesias, King said the use of offshores and complex structures has other real-world tax benefits for non-resident aliens like Iglesias and others who purchase property in Miami.

American citizens are subject to an estate tax when they die but their survivors have all sorts of thresholds and exemptions to avoid the full force of the levy. That is not the case for non-resident aliens, and King said many of his clients could end up owing 40% of the value of their properties in estate taxes absent an offshore structure to protect them.

“But of course that’s just me speaking aloud to matters of structure and the appropriateness of them,” he said.

Herald researcher Monika Leal contributed from Miami, and Daniele Grasso of El Pais and Joaquin Castellon of La Sexta contributed from Spain.

Kevin G. Hall began the Pandora Papers project as an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald and continued the work as North America editor for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

The Pandora Papers is a global collaboration between The Miami Herald and the nonprofit International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. If you like journalism like this, please make a donation to ICIJ to support it.

This story was originally published October 3, 2021 12:30 PM.