ICIJ’s “Offshore Leaks” probe has ignited reactions around the globe – sparking official investigations, sweeping policy changes and high-profile resignations.
Since the series of stories – based on a leak of 2.5 million secret offshore records – began rolling out in April, responses have come rapidly, from India, Mongolia, France and dozens of other nations. The European Union’s top tax official has called Offshore Leaks “the most significant trigger” behind Europe’s newfound resolve to crack down on offshore hideaways and global tax dodging.
“We’re in a completely different context today” because of the Offshore Leaks revelations, Belgium’s secretary of state said. “It’s a new world.”
Among the latest impacts and responses:
The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Igor Shuvalov, has repatriated his and his wife’s offshore assets to comply with a Russian law prohibiting state officials from holding their wealth abroad. An offshore company belonging to Shuvalov’s wife, Olga Shuvalov, was revealed in April by ICIJ. Shuvalov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, had pledged to return the assets to Russia soon after they were exposed.The move comes during a broad crackdown on offshore tax avoidance by Putin. Last week, Putin announced that Russian-owned companies registered in offshore jurisdictions would be forced to pay Russian taxes, and that companies registered abroad would be barred from getting funding from the budget or from state banks.
The European Parliament voted last week to strengthen its requirements for automatic exchange of tax data between EU member nations. The new rules, approved by 360 votes to 59, will require nations to collect and share data by 2017 on additional types of income such as employment, property and capital gains. In endorsing the measure, the Parliament voted to reject the “availability principle,” which would limit nations’ data sharing obligations to information that they decided independently to collect. “This important measure… responds to the challenges raised by [ICIJ's] Offshore Leaks and the staggering €1 trillion annual losses of tax revenues in the EU,” stated a summary of the reform that was prepared by the European Parliament’s Green Party.
The Danish Tax Minister announced a plan to crack down on offshore tax havens on the day after the last of a four-part series of documentaries about tax havens was aired by ICIJ’s Danish partner, DR Documentary at Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Danish tax authorities will devote $7.3 million to pursue both individuals who hide money offshore and their professional advisers. The plan is expected to result in "a substantial number of new cases about illegal use of tax havens," said Holger K. Nielsen, the Danish Tax Minister. The documentaries exposed reliance on offshore havens by a leading Danish bank as well as a major law firm. One film used a hidden camera to reveal Jyske Bank, Denmark’s third largest bank, advising an undercover journalist posing as a wealthy client to stash his money offshore in a plan that experts described as immoral and in some parts illegal. Others revealed the offshore tax advice given by Bech-Bruun, one of Denmark’s leading law firms, and by the massive accounting firm EY.
Authorities in Ireland have recovered 4.3 million euros in settlements after receiving offshore tax data shared by French authorities, and are expecting “a very significant amount of data” on offshore holdings from the governments of U.S., Britain and Australia. The French data was obtained from Herve Falciani, a whistleblower and former employee of HSBC. Much of the data from the U.S., Britain and Australia was initially unveiled in Offshore Leaks.
The Colombian government announced new regulations that will slap a 33-percent tax on financial transactions between Colombian companies or individuals and third parties in 44 countries identified as tax havens. “The party is over for those who were taking advantage of tax havens,” Mauricio Cárdenas, the country´s economics minister, told local journalists. Colombia’s top tax official, Juan Ricardo Ortega, said ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks stories “without doubt helped the government push forward regulations” that had been blocked for nearly a decade. The secret offshore files obtained by ICIJ revealed that the sons of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe were shareholders in a British Virgin Islands company.
Tax authorities in India say they have sent notices to more than 500 individuals whose offshore holdings were revealed earlier this year by ICIJ and The Indian Express. These individuals included two members of Parliament and several prominent industrialists, and the inquiries from the income tax department seek details and transactions of their offshore companies and trusts. A new list of individuals with offshore holdings found in the Offshore Leaks database was also published earlier this week, and included a decorated former civil service officer and the wife of Delhi’s energy secretary.
South Korean authorities announced they had uncovered evidence that the family of former dictator Chun Doo-Hwan had engaged in illegal offshore transactions. Earlier this year, ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that Chun’s son, Chun Jae-kook, had a secret offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. On October 8 the Korea Customs Service announced that it had found that offshore companies held by Chun’s family, including those belonging to Chun Jae-Kook, were involved in illegal foreign currency transactions. The Korea Customs Service said the transactions were intended to evade taxes and that it had informed Korean state prosecutors of its findings. The developments are the latest in a series of responses to ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting, which have also included raids by Korean prosecutors on both men’s homes and an agreement by Chun’s family to pay $154 million in fines.
The Anti-Corruption Commission in Bangladesh decided on September 30 to open an investigation into the offshore activities of Kazi Zafarullah, a leading member of Bangladesh’s governing Awami League political party. In July, ICIJ and its reporting partners at the Bangladeshi daily New Age revealed that Zafarullah and his wife, Nilufer Zafar, were directors and shareholders of two offshore companies. The couple had also opened a joint account at the Singaporean branch of the Swiss bank UBS AG. The Anti-Corruption Commission decided to investigate Zafarullah’s activities after a two-month assessment of ICIJ and New Age’s findings, an official with the commission said.
The son of disgraced former South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan issued a public apology and vowed that his family would pay the government $154 million in fines related to corruption during Chun’s rule. Prior to the announcement, the former dictator’s family had claimed for years that Chun was bankrupt and unable to pay the fines. But earlier this year, ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism revealed that Chun’s son, Chun Jae-kook, had a secret offshore companyin the British Virgin Islands. Chun Jae-kook denied any connection between his offshore holdings and his father, but South Korean prosecutors recently raided both men’s homes in a search for hidden assets.
Members of the G20 announced new measures to combat offshore tax evasion, including a plan toautomatically share tax data among G20 nations by the end of 2015. Today’s G20 Leaders Declaration, released from a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, also pledged the G20’s assistance to developing countries seeking to establish automatic tax information sharing, but stopped short of providing a timeline for doing so. According to the advocacy group Global Financial Integrity, illicit financial flows cost developing countries nearly $6 trillion between 2001 and 2010.
South Korea has ordered 11 individuals named in the Offshore Leaks investigation to pay a total of $64.6 million for using offshore paper companies to evade taxes. According to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s state news service, the country’s National Tax Service reviewed a list of Koreanssuspected of running paper companies in offshore locales that was published by ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism. Thirty-nine of those individuals were chosen for further investigation, and today’s news marks the completion of 11 of those cases.
The Premier of the British Virgin Islands, Orlando Smith, said his government has entered into talks with the US Treasury about compliance with a US law designed to crack down on offshore tax evasion. The British Virgin Islands is one of the world’s biggest offshore trust jurisdictions, with 30,000 people and more than 500,000 registered companies. Thousands of the secret offshore documents revealed by ICIJ related to dealings that were conducted under the laws of the British Virgin Islands.
India’s Minister of State for Finance, Shri J.D. Seelam, in charge of the revenue, confirmed in a written response to Parliament that income tax authorities are investigating the information published by ICIJ on Indian citizens with connections to offshore companies, including two members of Parliament. One of them denied any relationship with the entity in ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database. The finance minister had previously said that "not a single case" would go unpursued.
The OECD has proposed what Bloomberg News describes as “a blueprint” for cracking down on tax-dodging strategies used by international companies such as Google, Apple and Yahoo. The new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was released during a meeting in Moscow of the Group of 20 government finance and banking authorities. AFP reports the move, in part, follows widespread public anger over the “Offshore Leaks” revelations.
South Korean authorities have raided the home of former President Chun Doo-hwan along with businesses connected to his eldest son. Some 90 prosecutors, tax collectors and investigators ransacked the former president’s home in Seoul, carrying away paintings and other big-ticket items,The New York Timesreported. The raids come in the wake of an investigation by ICIJ and its “Offshore Leaks” reporting partner, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, into the offshore activities of the older son, Chun Jae-kook.
Australian tax authorities said they are stepping up efforts to crack down on corporate tax dodgingand taking a hard look at wealthy Australians and small companies with offshore holdings following “Offshore Leaks”. The Australian Tax Office’s plan includes 680 reviews and 115 audits of individuals and small businesses suspected of using offshore hideaways help them avoid taxes.
India’s Finance Minister said government probes into the offshore holdings of hundreds of Indians have made significant headway. “I am reviewing the progress every fortnight and can say that not a single case will go unpursued,” Finance Minister P Chidambaram said. The government’s effort was sparked by a joint investigation by ICIJ and The Indian Express.
In the wake of ICIJ’s reporting about large numbers of Israelis using tax havens, a top tax official says Israel is stepping up efforts to crack down on offshore tax dodging. Israel Tax Authority chief Moshe Asher urged citizens with money hidden offshore to voluntary declare these funds. “If you have black money abroad now is the time to report it,” he said. Asher noted that the authority is setting up a unit of analysts who will focus on tracking down black capital overseas.
A joint declaration by the G8 leaders at their Northern Ireland summit has agreed to an automatic exchange of tax information and to share ownership information of offshore companies and trusts with tax authorities, but these registers will not be made public. The declaration also says the use of bearer shares and nominee shareholders and directors "should be prevented."
Leaders of Britain’s overseas territories – long known as key cogs in the global tax haven system – have agreed to begin sharing tax information with other countries. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said officials from Britain’s network of territories and dependencies have pledged to sign on to an international convention that provides for automatic exchange of information among tax authorities. “I commend their leadership and I look to other international partners to work with their own territories to reach similar agreements,” Cameron said. He called the agreement a “very positive step forward” in the fight to ensure that “those who want to evade taxes have nowhere to hide.” The British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and other UK overseas territories and dependencies also agreed to begin working to remove the veil of secrecy that often hides who owns offshore companies, Cameron said.
Philippine authorities said the launch of ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database will prompt them toreview the tax records of Philippine residents whose names appear in the data. Kim Jacinto-Henares, commissioner of the country’s Bureau of Internal Revenue said she welcomes the public release of the database, saying it can aid the agency’s efforts to gather information that could lead to tax investigations and cases. “We will look into it and match (the information on Philippine residents in the database) with income tax returns,” Henares told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, an ICIJ reporting partner.
EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta says the Offshore Leaks investigation by ICIJ and its partners has transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion. "I personally think Offshore Leaks could be identified as the most significant trigger behind these developments … It has created visibility of the issue and it has triggered political recognition of the amplitude of the problem", he told EU Observer. He added that tax transparency overrides the principle of data privacy.
South Korean financial regulators have opened an investigation into possible illicit fund transfers by hundreds of Koreans whose names are included in ICIJ’s “Offshore Leaks” database. “We will investigate every one of them,” a top regulator said. “When doing capital transactions, they’re required to report to the authorities prior to the trades, so now we are investigating whether they violated the law.” ICIJ’s investigative partner, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, revealed that it had identified at least 245 Koreans who established companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands and other offshore havens.
Canadian Senator Vern White has called for a probe into a fellow legislator’s role in her husband’s use of an offshore hideaway in the South Pacific. The conservative Senator said he has asked the Senate’s ethics officer to look into Liberal Senator Pana Merchant’s role in the matter, saying there are "serious questions" to be dealt with. The Senate ethics office said in a statement that will give Merchant a chance to respond before deciding whether to launch a formal investigation. CBC News and ICIJ revealed last month that Merchant’s husband, famed class-action lawyer Tony Merchant, had shifted some CA$1.7 million (US$1.1 million) into a Cook Islands trust while he was locked in battle with Canadian tax authorities.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on June 14 released the Offshore Leaks interactive database that allows the public to search through more than 100,000 secret companies, trusts and funds created in offshore locales such as the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands and Singapore. Thanks in part to the ICIJ "Offshore Leaks" investigation, tax evasion and offshore secrecy will be a central theme of next week’s meeting of G8 industrialized nations. The chair of that meeting, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, has gone on the record saying the time has come “to knock down the walls of company secrecy” that make the offshore system attractive to money launderers, fraudsters and other criminals. The Offshore Leaks Database helps remove a small part of this secrecy, opening up records that may help bring accountability to an industry that has long operated in the shadows.
‘Offshore Leaks’ records show the oldest son of South Korea’s former strongman president Chun Doo-hwan obtained a British Virgin Islands company in 2004 amid a tax evasion probe into his younger brother’s alleged involvement with their father’s bribery-fed slush fund. Prosecutors are aggressively seeking the ex-president’s hidden assets in the face of an approaching statute of limitations deadline for his unpaid fine of 167.2 billion won ($149.3 million).
One of Europe’s top bankers offered his resignation one day after news broke that he secretly owned secrecy-cloaked offshore companies in the Caribbean and Asia. Raiffeisen Bank International chief executive Herbert Stepic said he was stepping aside to save the Vienna-headquartered bank from fallout over the latest revelations in the “Offshore Leaks” probe. Stepic denies wrongdoing, but said at a quickly arranged news conference in Vienna that he wanted to spare the bank from media reports that “threatened to do massive harm to my company.”
British tax authorities said they were working with the United States and Australian tax administrations on analyzing a 400GB data cache "showing the use of companies and trusts in a number of territories around the world including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands,” the British tax office statement said. The data cache is believed to be the same one obtained by ICIJ and used as a basis for the Offshore Leaks investigation. British authorities say they have so far identified "over 100 people who benefit from these structures … and are under investigation for offshore tax evasion,” as well as more than 200 UK accountants, lawyers and other middlemen who helped set up the offshore structures.
A Canadian man who vanished a decade ago in a possible underworld killing set up offshore companies and bank accounts before he went missing, documents contained in the ICIJ data cache show.
Bankrupt real estate mogul Hans Thulin had as much as $17 million sheltered offshore at a time when the Swedish government was pursuing him in court for millions of dollars in unpaid debts.
Despite Finnish government promises to lead the fight against tax evasion, it turns out the state-owned postal service, Itella, has subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Jutta Urpilainen, the Finnish finance minister, said she found the Itella revelation "repulsive".
Five directors of Banco Amambay, owned by Paraguay’s leading candidate in this month’s presidential election, Horacio Manuel Cartes, created a secret bank in the Cook Islands with no building and no staff.
Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan is accusing his once-trusted tax adviser of absconding with $34 million he helped Hogan hide offshore in Switzerland.
Clariden Bank, part of Credit Suisse, sought highly-secretive structures and pushed offshore service providers to bypass anti-money laundering checks for its wealthy clients.
Baron Elie de Rothschild, the late guardian of the French banking dynasty, built an elaborate offshore empire in the Cook Islands involving at least 20 trusts and 10 holding companies, while managing to keep all assets and beneficiaries secret. One of the entities was named, appropriately, Anon Trust.
Two members of India’s Parliament, the world’s largest producer of cut roses and other major business owners are among hundreds from the subcontinent revealed to have links to the offshore world, prompting a government investigation.
Shares of an offshore company were held in trust for the daughters of one of Africa’s most popular pastors, televangelist Rev. Chris Oyakhilome.
Dutch banking giants ING and ABN Amro helped set up offshore companies in faraway island states for their clients.
Billionaires with ties to former dictator Suharto, two sons of former president B. J. Habibie andnine of the Indonesia’s richest 11 families, appear in the secret records of offshore trust and company owners.
Fabio Ghioni, the former head of information security at Telecom Italia who was later convicted of hacking the data of 4,000 people, had an offshore company called Constant Surge Investments Limited. Internal documents reveal he was advised by the Singapore branch of Deutsche Bank to do business with Portcullis TrustNet. When interviewed by L’Espresso, he denied being the beneficial owner of CSIL: “I don’t know anything of this. I don’t even know where the Virgin Islands are located.”
Zurich-based law firm Lenz & Staehlin has aided some of Europe’s richest families park their wealth offshore. “People don’t set up this kind of structure out of altruism, but to gain a profit,” says Christian Wanner, one of Switzerland’s leading authorities on tax collection.
Scandal-buffeted Pakistani politician Moonis Elahi, whose father Chaudhry Pervez Elahi has just stepped down as deputy prime minister, owned a secret company in the British Virgin Islands. The company’s existence wasn’t unearthed during a recent government probe into Moonis Elahi involving illegal payments in an alleged land scam.
Top Malaysian politicians and their families, including former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s son Mirzan and current cabinet minister Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin, are among prominent Malaysians with secretive offshore companies housed in Singapore and the British Virgin Islands.
"You’re certainly going to be using a nominee director if you’re doing anything bad," says university professor Jason Sharman. The CIA, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the company which shipped arms to Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, the former Kazakhstan banking head Mukhtar Ablyazov, and alleged spy Paul William Hampel are some of the clients who have used nominee directors and offshore entities to conceal their activities and identities.
Among the 4,000 U.S. individuals listed in the records, at least 30 are American citizens accused in lawsuits or criminal cases of fraud, money laundering or other serious financial misconduct, an analysis by the Washington Post and ICIJ found. Offshore trusts and companies set up in the South Pacific and Caribbean are the common factor in several prominent financial scandals in the U.S.
Offshore companies are ridiculously easy to establish, and effective at concealing your identity. Watch our animated video explaining the process.
Two major French banks, BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole oversaw the creation of a large number of totally opaque offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and Singapore from the late 1990s until the end of the 2000s for clients in search of secrecy and lower tax rates.
Nicky Hager provides an in-depth look at the offshore service provider Portcullis TrustNet. Roughly 45,000 of about 77,000 of the client list come from China, Taiwan, Singapore and other East and Southeast Asian nations. The firm is used by many of the world’s major banks, such as UBS, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse subsidiary Clariden, and by the world’s biggest auditing firms, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and KPMG, to provide secrecy for their wealthy clients, and was implicated in New Zealand’s "winebox affair" scandal of the decade.
Gunter Sachs, the late millionaire playboy, businessman and former husband of Bridgette Bardot is revealed to have had an intricate offshore scheme to manage his vast fortune, a scheme that remained inscrutable to the fiscal authorities until the end.
Two Americans and one South African are revealed to have reaped $2.5 million dollars from the aborted sales of surplus military helicopters to President Lissouba during the civil war in the Republic of Congo.
François Hollande’s treasurer during the 2012 presidential campaign, businessman Jean-Jacques Augier, is revealed to have investments in the Cayman Islands.
Philippine government officials said Friday that they will look into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands. “We are duty bound to investigate and, depending upon informed preliminary findings, decide whether to pursue the matter,” said Andres Bautista, the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, tasked with recovering the Marcos family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
Germany’s largest financial institution, Deutsche Bank, helped its customers maintain more than 300 secretive offshore companies and trusts through its Singapore branch.
New light is shed on a half-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme in Venezuela that shuffled investor money among a maze of offshore companies, hedge funds and bank accounts stretching from the Cayman Islands to Switzerland and Panama, smoothing the way by funneling bribes to officials in Venezuela.
Commonwealth Trust Limited, a BVI-based firm, is revealed to have set up companies involved in the Magnitsky affair, a case that’s strained U.S.-Russian relations and blocked American adoptions of Russian orphans
One of Mongolia’s most senior politicians says he is considering resigning from office after being confronted with evidence that he has an offshore company and a secret Swiss bank account.
Newly uncovered documents link Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest child of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and now a senior political figure in her own right, to two secretive offshore trusts and an offshore company.
A prominent Canadian lawyer, husband to a Liberal senator, moved CA$1.7 million (US$1.1 million) to secretive financial havens while he was locked in battle with the Canada Revenue Agency over his taxes, according to documents in a massive leak of offshore financial data.
A corporate mogul whose business empire has won building contracts worth billions of dollars amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction spree is tied to the president’s family through secretive offshore companies.
The prominent Thais listed in secret documents as owners of offshore holdings includes the former wife of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a sitting senator, a former high-ranking defense ministry official, Forbes-listed tycoons, and a former government minister whose assets in the United States are frozen because of her alleged links to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
Greek citizens who own or direct offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens rarely declare them to Greek tax officials, a review of more than 100 companies shows. Just four out of 107 offshore companies investigated by ICIJ are registered with tax authorities as the law usually requires, particularly when the firms hold assets or conduct business in Greece. Officials apparently have no record of the other 103 firms — or whether the owners declared any assets held by these entities or paid taxes on them.
A list containing examples of some of the most high-profile names uncovered in this investigation, along with records of their offshore companies. Those named come in the form of politicians, businessmen, army generals, tycoons, relatives of dictators, and are scattered across 29 different countries.
Finally, for those interested in how ICIJ managed to tackle records cache, the data manager of the project, Duncan Campbell, writes an in-depth explanation of how our journalists were able make sense of the 260 gigabytes of information obtained. Four large databases, half a million text, PDF, spreadsheet, image and web files were dissected to reveal over 130,000 records on the people and agents who run, own, benefit from or hide behind offshore companies.
How one Zurich-based law firm, Lenz & Staehlin, has aided some of Europe’s richest families park their wealth offshore. “People don’t set up this kind of structure out of altruism, but to gain a profit,” says Christian Wanner, one of Switzerland’s leading authorities on tax collection.
We hope you enjoy these stories; there will be more to follow daily for the next couple of weeks.
If you have story tips, documents or other information about this issue, contact us at investigations.
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