The latest global investigative effort spearheaded by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – dubbed the Pandora Papers – has exposed how the world elite is using offshore structures and trusts in tax havens such as Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands to conceal their wealth.
More than 600 reporters spent two years going through a cache that includes close to 12m files from 14 companies hired by the world’s rich to hide their fortunes, among others 35 current and former world leaders, as well as 300 other public officials in more than 90 countries.
The ICIJ said:
“Coming more than five years after the Panama Papers, which exposed law firm Mossack Fonseca, the latest leak ends forever the idea that abuses of the offshore system are the work of a few bad apples. Instead, the files expose a vast and often interconnected system that is feeding crises and discontent across the world.”
The files expose the global nature of the offshore business, a world in which a reported secret mistress of Russian President Vladimir Putin receives a luxury apartment in Monaco via an offshore shell company, and the King of Jordan secretly buys up real estate in prime locations such as London and Malibu, according to the committee.
In addition to dictators and royalty, the papers also shed light on a number of European leaders who source their legitimacy from democratic elections. These include Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who is running for re-election in the country’s October 8-9 general election. The politician, who is also one of his country’s wealthiest citizens, is facing scrutiny over his use of an offshore investment company to acquire a USD 22m chateau in southern France, as reported by The Guardian, which was provided with access to the files.
Another European politician who’s featured in the leak is Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform. During his successful campaign, the actor-turned-politician transferred his shares in an offshore company to a close friend who now serves as the president’s top adviser, according to the files.
While many of the revealed financial operations lack illegal nature, they are likely to stir controversies on how powerful decision-makers use the offshore industry to override their countries’ tax systems. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie saved an estimated USD 423,000 (GBP 312,000) in taxes on their purchase of a USD 8.8m (GBP 6.5m) London building by buying a British Virgin Islands offshore company that had owned the property.
Meanwhile, the papers also highlight how the US is increasingly repositioning itself as an offshore haven for the world’s rich and influential.
“Due to the central role the US plays in the global banking system, the country is in a uniquely powerful position to bring secretive offshore finance to heel,” the ICIJ said. “But while the federal government has made recent efforts to rein in the industry abroad, many states — such as Delaware, Alaska and Nevada — have held out or are moving in the opposite direction. In recent years, lawmakers in over a dozen US states have voted to expand their financial secrecy industries.”