Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

Should we fuss about the Pandora Papers?

Oct 6, 2021, 12:37 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz


LAST Monday, the world (and I mean literally the global markets) were greeted by stories in all news, television, cable and wire networks and their online services with news about Pandora Papers, which dwelt on nine years of finance leaks.

The Pandora Papers detailed how hundreds of world leaders, politicians, royalties, celebrities, billionaires and captains of industries and governments managed to stash away their excessive wealth (obtained through good and ill-gotten ways) in safe havens like the British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong and Belize to avoid paying the proper taxes in their home countries.

It featured 12 million files from companies providing offshore services in tax havens around the world.

The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington DC, which has organized the biggest ever global investigation, spanning 117 countries and involving more than 600 journalists.

In the UK the investigation has been led by BBC Panorama and the Guardian.

The files are the latest in a series of whistleblower-led investigations that have rocked the financial world in recent years.

FinCEN Files 2020

In September 2020 the FinCEN Files exposed the failure of major global banks to stop money laundering and financial crime. They also revealed how the UK is often the weak link in the financial system and how London is awash with Russian cash.

The files included more than 2,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs), filed by financial institutions to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Agency, or FinCEN, a part of the US Treasury Department. They also include 17,641 records obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and other sources.

They were obtained by BuzzFeed News which shared them with the ICIJ and 400 journalists around the world, including BBC Panorama, which led the investigation in the UK.

Paradise Papers 2017

A huge batch of leaked documents mostly from offshore law firm Appleby, along with corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions, revealed the financial dealings of politicians, celebrities, corporate giants and business leaders.

The documents contained details about investments made by the Queen's private estate, a tax avoidance scheme used by three stars of BBC sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys and showed that Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton avoided tax on his £16.5m luxury jet. They also revealed how Apple protected its low-tax regime by using the Channel Island of Jersey and that Prince Charles campaigned to alter climate-change agreements without disclosing his private estate had an offshore financial interest in what he was promoting.

Who leaked the data?

The BBC is clueless as to the identity of the source. The 13.4 million records were passed to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the ICIJ. Panorama led research for the BBC as part of a global investigation involving nearly 100 other media organizations, including the Guardian, in 67 countries.

A confidential settlement was later reached between the BBC, the Guardian and Appleby over the reporting of the leaked documents, which Appleby said were taken by hackers. The Guardian and BBC said the reports were in the public interest but did not give more detail about the settlement.

Panama Papers 2016

Until Pandora this leak was seen as the daddy of them all in data size. If you thought the Wikileaks dump of sensitive diplomatic cables in 2010 was a big deal, this carried 1,500 times more data.

Süddeutsche Zeitung's "brothers". Despite surnames that sound the same, these two leading lights of the Panama Papers investigation, Frederik Obermaier (L) and Bastian Obermayer, are not related.

The Panama Papers came about after an anonymous source contacted reporters at German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2015 and supplied encrypted documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. It sells anonymous offshore companies that help the owners hide their business dealings.

Overwhelmed by the scale of the dump, which eventually grew to 2.6 terabytes of data, the Süddeutsche Zeitung called in the ICIJ, which led to the involvement of about 100 other partner news organizations, including the BBC's Panorama.

After more than a year of scrutiny, the ICIJ and its partners jointly published the Panama Papers on April 3,l 2016, with the database of documents going online a month later.

Who was named? A few of the news partners focused on how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin shuffled cash around the globe. Not that the Russians cared much. The prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan came to far stickier ends, the former quitting and the latter being thrown out of office by the Supreme Court. Overall the financial dealings of a dozen current and former world leaders, more than 120 politicians and public officials and countless billionaires, celebrities and sports stars were exposed.

Panama City skyline

Five months after the Panama Papers, the ICIJ published revelations from the Bahamas corporate registry. The 38GB cache revealed the offshore activities of "prime ministers, ministers, princes and convicted felons", it said. Former EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes admitted an "oversight" in failing to disclose her interest in an offshore company.

Swiss leaks 2015

This ICIJ investigation, involving hundreds of journalists from 45 countries, including BBC Panorama, went public in February 2015. It focused on HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), a subsidiary of the banking giant, and so lifted the lid on dealings in a country where banking secrecy is taken for granted.

The leaked files covered accounts up to the year 2007, linked with more than 100,000 individuals and legal entities from more than 200 countries.

The ICIJ said the subsidiary had served "those close to discredited regimes" and "clients who had been unfavorably named by the United Nations."

HSBC admitted that the "compliance culture and standards of due diligence" at the subsidiary at the time were "lower than they are today."

The ICIJ said HSBC had profited from "arms dealers, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws."

It also cited those close to the regimes of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Tunisian President Ben Ali and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

The ICIJ investigation was based on data originally leaked by the French-Italian software engineer and whistleblower Hervé Falciani, though the ICIJ got it later from another source. From 2008 onwards he passed information on HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) to French authorities, who in turn passed them to other relevant governments. Falciani was indicted in Switzerland. He was held in detention in Spain but was later released and now lives in France.

Luxembourg leaks 2014

LuxLeaks for short revealed its findings in November 2014.It centered on how professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers helped multinational companies gain hundreds of favorable tax rulings in Luxembourg between 2002 and 2010.

The ICIJ said multinationals had saved billions by channeling money through Luxembourg, sometimes at tax rates of less than 1%. One address in Luxembourg was home to more than 1,600 companies, it said.

The leak of documents was first exposed in 2012 after a joint investigation between Panorama and France2 which lifted the lid on the tax agreements of UK pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and media company Northern & Shell.

Pepsi, IKEA, AIG and Deutsche Bank were among those named.

A second tranche of leaked documents said the Walt Disney Co and Skype had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in profits through Luxembourg subsidiaries. They and the other firms denied any wrongdoing.

Jean-Claude Juncker had been PM of Luxembourg when it enacted many of its tax avoidance rules. He had been appointed president of the European Commission just a few days before the leak came out. He said he had not encouraged avoidance.

Eurosceptics went to town and pushed a censure motion against him and his commission. It was rejected. But the EU did investigate, and by 2016 had proposed a yet-to-be realized common tax scheme for the EU.

Frenchman Antoine Deltour, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee, was the main man, saying he had acted in the public interest. Another PwC employee, Raphael Halet, helped him.

The pair, along with journalist Edouard Perrin, were all charged in Luxembourg after a PwC complaint. A first verdict was later revisited, watering down sentences, with Deltour given a six-month suspended jail term which was later quashed. Halet received a small fine and Mr Perrin was acquitted.

The offshore leaks 2012-2013

This was about a tenth of the size of the Panama Papers but was seen as the biggest exposé of international tax fraud ever when the ICIJ and its news partners went public in November 2012 and April 2013.

Some 2.5 million files revealed the names of more than 120,000 companies and trusts in hideaways such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cook Islands.

BBC Panorama exposed a flourishing tax evasion industry in the UK in an undercover investigation based on the files. Named were the usual mix of politicians, government officials and their families, with the Russians notable, but also those in China, Azerbaijan, Canada, Thailand, Mongolia and Pakistan.

Marcos gets mentioned

The Philippines - in the form of the family of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos - get a dishonorable mention. To be fair, the ICIJ does point out that the leaks are not necessarily evidence of illegal actions.

The ICIJ cites "two financial service providers, a private bank in Jersey and the Bahamas corporate registry" as the sources but says nothing more other than it was "data obtained."

A massive leak of financial documents was published by several major news organizations on Sunday that allegedly tie world leaders to secret stores of wealth, including King Abdullah of Jordan, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The dump of more than 11.9 million records, amounting to about 2.94 terabytes of data, came five years after the leak known as the "Panama Papers" exposed how money was hidden by the wealthy in ways that law enforcement agencies could not detect.

Washington-based ICIJ, a network of reporters and media organizations, said the files are linked to about 35 current and former national leaders, and more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories. It did not say how the files were obtained, and Reuters could not independently verify the allegations or documents detailed by the consortium.

Jordan's King Abdullah, a close ally of the United States, was alleged to have used offshore accounts to spend more than $100 million on luxury homes in the United Kingdom and the United States.

DLA Piper, a London law office representing Abdullah, told the consortium of media outlets that he had "not at any point misused public monies or made any use whatsoever of the proceeds of aid or assistance intended for public use."

The Washington Post, which is part of the consortium, also reported on the case of Svetlana Krivonogikh, a Russian woman who it said became the owner of a Monaco apartment through an offshore company incorporated on the Caribbean Island of Tortola in April 2003 just weeks after she gave birth to a girl. At the time, she was in a secret, years-long relationship with Putin, the newspaper said, citing Russian investigative outlet Proekt.

The Post said Krivonogikh, her daughter, who is now 18, and the Kremlin did not respond to requests for comment.

Days ahead of the Czech Republic's Oct. 8-9 parliamentary election, the documents allegedly tied the country's prime minister, Babis, to a secret $22 million estate in a hilltop village near Cannes, France. Speaking during a television debate on Sunday, Babis denied any wrongdoing.

"The money left a Czech bank, was taxed, it was my money, and returned to a Czech bank," Babis said.

Hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers have been hiding their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets for the past quarter-century, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world.

The ICIJ released the Pandora Papers last Sunday. It's called “Pandora Papers" because the findings shed light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite and the corrupt, and how they have used offshore accounts to shield assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.

The more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, former UK former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso, and associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The billionaires called out in the report include Turkish construction mogul Erman Ilicak and Robert T. Brockman, the former CEO of software maker Reynolds & Reynolds.

Many of the accounts were designed to evade taxes and conceal assets for other shady reasons, according to the report.

Wakeup call

“The new data leak must be a wake-up call,” said Sven Giegold, a Green party lawmaker in the European Parliament. “Global tax evasion fuels global inequality. We need to expand and sharpen the countermeasures now.”

Oxfam International, a British consortium of charities, applauded the Pandora Papers for exposing brazen examples of greed that deprived countries of tax revenue that could be used to finance programs and projects for the greater good.

“This is where our missing hospitals are," Oxfam said in a statement. “This is where the pay-packets sit of all the extra teachers and firefighters and public servants we need. Whenever a politician or business leader claims there is ‘no money’ to pay for climate damage and innovation, for more and better jobs, for a fair post-COVID recovery, for more overseas aid, they know where to look."

The Pandora Papers are a follow-up to a similar project released in 2016 called the “Panama Papers" compiled by the same journalistic group. But it is more expansive, leaked from 14 different providers doing business in 38 jurisdictions dating back to the 1970s but most of the files span 1996 to 2020.

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