An investigation from the Chicago Tribune shed new light on J.B. Pritzker’s offshore holdings Wednesday, reportedly revealing a “byzantine” web of foreign companies and trusts registered in his name that experts told the Tribune has the effect of obscuring his assets from tax authorities.
With less than a week until Election Day, the Tribune’s report provided a bit more insight into the billionaire Hyatt heir and venture capitalist’s finances as he attempts to win the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor.
Pritzker has self-funded his campaign, pouring more than $63 million into his own war chest, but as the fifth-richest person in Illinois, according to Forbes, his wealth has come under scrutiny.
He has released just two pages of his personal tax returns, which the Tribune underscored incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner did as well.
Thus, Pritzker’s family’s use of offshore banking has largely remained private, though it has drawn condemnation from both sides of the aisle as a way to avoid paying taxes.
While Pritzker has repeatedly said that the shell companies bearing his family name were set up by his grandfather — Abram Pritzker — in the 1960s, the Tribune uncovered several holdings created between 2008 and 2011 owned entirely by Pritzker, his brother and business partner Anthony Pritzker, or “other close associates” as officers registered with the companies.
The organizations, 18 of which are located in the Bahamas, according to the Tribune’s investigation, have vague names which they sometimes share with other shell companies linked to the Pritzker family. The Tribune reported that Cheyenne Capital Holdings Ltd, associated with Pritzker and registered in Nassau, bears striking similarity to Cheyenne Trust, a company listed as holding stock in the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Several other names on a registry filed with the Bahamian government are the same as others which have held and sold Hyatt stock in the past, including Nikopol, Alushta, Izyum and Evpatoria — all of which, as the Tribune pointed out, are cities in Ukraine, where Pritzker’s ancestors lived until they immigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th century.
“Throughout this campaign, JB has been transparent about his finances and today's article only confirms what he has always said,” Galia Slayen, a spokeswoman for Pritzker, said in a statement on the Tribune’s report.
“First, generations ago there were trusts set up offshore by JB’s family and JB does not manage or oversee them. Second, as the Tribune details, any distributions made from those trusts are directed to charity and JB has never received a personal disbursement from any trust located offshore. Finally, JB’s statement of economic interest lists assets held not only by JB personally, but also trusts and the Pritzker Family Foundation. With six days to go until the primary election, JB is energized by the support he’s received across the state and ready to beat Bruce Rauner in November.”
The Tribune’s report also highlighted two other candidates in the gubernatorial race with offshore wealth: Rauner, who has attacked Pritzker for his offshore cash but dismissed his own as “tiny” and out of his control, as well as Democrat Chris Kennedy, who listed an “Anchorage offshore fund” in his economic interest statement.
In a statement Wednesday, Kennedy said Pritzker had “proven himself to be a serial tax cheat.”
“JB Pritzker thinks the rules don’t apply to him because he is a billionaire,” Kennedy’s statement said. “JB Pritzker’s true character has been on full display in this campaign. His character is one of lying, cheating and using his money to try to buy an election. The voters of Illinois won’t stand for it next Tuesday.”
Rauner jumped in as well, saying in a statement that Pritzker “wants to raise taxes on hardworking Illinois families but will dodge taxes himself.”
“The Chicago Tribune's report shows that JB Pritzker cannot be trusted. He will game the system for his own benefit and leave hardworking Illinoisans footing the bill,” Rauner added.
The Tribune said it obtained the records on Pritzker's offshore holdings after partnering with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to gain access to the “Paradise Papers,” a database containing of millions of financial records pertaining to offshore accounts first revealed in 2017.
Pritzker's personal wealth has been estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion, which the campaign has confirmed as being accurate. Without his complete tax returns and with the assets of his foreign companies out of reach, it may be impossible to know details of his wealth ahead of Election Day.