Offshore leaks: tax havens once more on the spotlight

“Offshore leaks” is the name of a new scandal referred to tax havens, which spread through the Internet in the last few days. In this article, we’ll try to make a brief summary of the facts known so far.

The facts:

Who has disseminated the information?

The “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists” (ICIJ), an organization of more than 160 journalists in 60 countries. The purpose of this consortium is to promote cross-border investigative journalism. For the dissemination of the material obtained, the agency collaborates with various TV channels and newspapers around the world: BBC World Service and BBC World TV, the International Herald Tribune, Le Monde (France), El Mundo (Spain), Trouw (Netherlands) , El Pais (Spain), Folha de Sao Paulo (Brasl), Le Soir (Belgium), Novaya Gazeta (Russia), the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Stern (Germany), The Guardian (UK), The Sunday Times (UK), Proceso (Mexico), the Huffington Post (USA), The Age (Australia) and The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).

What information about tax havens does the consortium have?

They claim to have access to data of about 130,000 individuals and legal entities conducting business or investments through tax havens and 122,000 offshore companies related thereto. The resulting material consists of approximately 2.5 million files, including four major databases, plus hundreds of thousands of text documents and pdf files. In total, about 260 gigabytes of information. The documentation contains names of individuals and companies from over 170 countries.

Who is in the listings?

Among many ordinary citizens, the listings also contain names of prominent businessmen, politicians and their families. Some of the names which have become known by now are Jean-Jacques Augier (the treasurer of the election campaign and personal friend of President François Hollande), the new Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the daughter of the former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, and the sons of previous President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe, among many others.

How has this information been obtained?

As per the consortium’s informations, the research began with a hard disk mailed anonymously to their editorial office. This hard drive contained data from two major offshore service providers, of which the names have not been confirmed, and apparently had been subtracted by some of their employees. Most of the information is related to the jurisdiction of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), and thus it is assumed that the data come from that country. However, other jurisdictions such as Singapore are also involved.

As the consortium has informed, The classification work was extremely complex, and it was necessary to use highly sophisticated electronic and optical means for analysing the large amount of documentation available and to find the transactions related to prominent public figures.

Clearly, the “offshore leaks” case will put tax havens once again in the spotlight and may trigger possible regulatory changes or new campaigns against offshore secrecy. Therefore, it will be of utmost interest to track the events in the coming months, particularly in what concerns the British crown dependencies.

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