The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has announced the Pandora Papers, an exposé of the offshore secrets of wealthy elites worldwide, involving over 200 countries and territories. The investigation centred over 11.9 million leaked records, or 2.94 terabytes of data.
Among these elites are 330 politicians, 130 Forbes billionaires, celebrities, fraudsters, drug dealers, royal family members and religious group leaders.
“These are people who use tax and secrecy havens to buy property and hide assets; many avoid taxes and worse,” wrote the ICIJ.
Among the files were 4.1 million images and emails and 6.4 million text documents, with over 4 million PDFs. Some of these PDFs had up to 10,000 pages.
Other documents included passports, bank statements, tax declarations, company incorporation records, real estate contracts and due diligence questionnaires.
The records also included over 467,000 spreadsheets, as well as slide shows, audio files and video files.
The Pandora Papers investigation is the most extensive journalistic collaboration in history, with over 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries.
“The investigation is based on a leak of confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that give professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in low- or no-tax jurisdictions. The entities enable owners to conceal their identities from the public and sometimes from regulators. Often, the providers help them open bank accounts in countries with light financial regulation,” stated the ICIJ.
“The records include an unprecedented amount of information on so-called beneficial owners of entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, Panama, South Dakota and other secrecy jurisdictions. They also contain information on the shareholders, directors and officers. In addition to the rich, the famous and the infamous, those exposed by the leak include people who don’t represent a public interest and who don’t appear in our reporting, such as small business owners, doctors and other, usually affluent, individuals away from the public spotlight.”
Most of the files were created between 1996 and 2020 and involve various matters, like creating shell companies, foundations and trusts, and using these to buy real estate, yachts, jets and life insurance. The entities were also used for investing and moving money between bank accounts, estate and inheritance planning, avoiding taxes and financial crimes like money laundering.
The politicians’ files from more than 90 countries and territories showed their use of entities in secrecy jurisdictions (a tax haven specialising in the concealment of wealth and financial affairs from the rule of law, for avoiding tax and financial crimes like money laundering and funding terrorist groups) to purchase real estate, hold money in trust and own other companies and assets.
“The Pandora Papers investigation also reveals how banks and law firms work closely with offshore service providers to design complex corporate structures. The files show that providers don’t always know their customers, despite their legal obligation to take care not to do business with people who engage in questionable dealings,” added the ICIJ.
“The investigation also reports on how U.S. trust providers have taken advantage of some states’ laws that promote secrecy and help wealthy overseas clients hide wealth to avoid taxes in their home countries.”
The ICIJ released a similar investigative report in 2016, known as the Panama Papers investigation. This report was slightly smaller than the Pandora Papers investigation at 2.6 terabytes of data (11.5 million documents) from the now-defunct Mossack Fonseca law firm.
The ICIJ’s 2017 Paradise Papers investigation involved 1.4 terabytes (over 13.4 million) files from offshore law firm Appleby, Singapore-based Asiaciti Trust, and government-corporate registries in 19 secrecy jurisdictions.
“The Pandora Papers presented a new challenge because the 14 providers had different ways of presenting and organising information. Some organised documents by client, some by various offices, and others had no apparent system at all,” stated the ICIJ.
“The Pandora Papers connected offshore activity to more than twice as many politicians and public officials as did the Panama Papers. And the Pandora Papers’ more than 330 politicians and public officials from more than 90 countries and territories, included 35 current and former country leaders. The new leak also includes information on jurisdictions not explored in previous ICIJ projects or for which there was little data, such as Belize, Cyprus and South Dakota.”
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