The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has obtained and released what it calls “the most expansive leak of tax haven files in history” — nearly 12 million confidential documents, including contracts, emails, and spreadsheets, that detail offshore holdings and transactions. The leak, dubbed the Pandora Papers, exposes more than twice as many account holders and public officials as the ICIJ’s Panama Papers project did in 2016, and is thus likely to shine an even wider spotlight on the shadowy financial tactics of the world’s wealthy and powerful elite.
The new leak is comprised of almost three terabytes of data from 14 offshore services firms operating in various countries, mostly spanning the last three decades, and overall related to 27,000 companies and 29,000 offshore accounts. The leak exposes the accounts and financial dealings of 130 billionaires from around the globe, including 46 Russian oligarchs; 14 current heads of state and 21 former heads of state; numerous known criminals; and a range of other people including athletes, celebrities, and more.
More than 600 journalists from 150 news organizations in 117 countries, including at the Washington Post, Guardian, and BBC Panorama, have been working for months to unpack the leaked data. The ICIJ says the project is the “broadest collaboration in journalism history.”
As with the Panama Papers, the leak mostly exposes the dealings of people outside the U.S. But as the Washington Post notes, the data does reveal how some states have become offshore havens for foreigners:
Perhaps the most troubling revelations for the United States, however, center on its expanding complicity in the offshore economy. South Dakota, Nevada, and other states have adopted financial secrecy laws that rival those of offshore jurisdictions. Records show leaders of foreign governments, their relatives and companies moving their private fortunes into U.S.-based trusts.
A total of 81 trusts held in South Dakota are part of the leak:
The files provide substantial new evidence … that South Dakota now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy. Tens of millions of dollars from outside the United States are now sheltered by trust companies in Sioux Falls, some of it tied to people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing.
Among the world leaders and major public figures whose offshore holdings and dealings were included in the leak:
- Jordanian ruler King Abdullah II
- President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta
- Dubai ruler and U.A.E. prime minister Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum
- Prime minister of Lebanon Najib Mikati and former prime minister Hassan Diab
- Billionaire and current (populist) Czech prime minister Andrej Babis
- Former Hong Kong chief executives C.Y. Leung and Tung Chee-hwa
- President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky
- Members of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, including oil magnate Gennady Timchenko, Channel One Russia CEO Konstantin Ernst, and Putin’s alleged former girlfriend Svetlana Krivonogikh
- President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso
- U.S. tech billionaires Robert F. Smith and Robert T. Brockman
- Celebrities including pop star Shakira, supermodel Claudia Schiffer, Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, actress Monica Bellucci, and singer Julio Iglesias
- Former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Blair (whom the Guardian reports are not accused of wrongdoing)