Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

Massive Leak of Offshore Account Documents Reveals How the Global Rich Hide Their Money

Thousands of individuals are implicated in abusing more than 120,000 offshore companies in 170 countries to evade taxes and shield shady business from view.

A massive trove of leaked documents reveals the names of thousands of individuals and companies abusing offshore accounts to evade taxes and hide shady business deals, according to a report released Tuesday. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spent more than a year sifting through 2.5 million files, connection cash transfers between companies and individuals to “illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.” Some are calling this the biggest leak ever, 160 times larger than Wikileaks’ 2010 cable dump.

The files reveal the dealings of more than 120,000 offshore companies in 170 countries and territories around the world. To digest the information proved a gargantuan task for a global team of 86 journalists from 36 countries working for The Guardian, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Washington Postand 34 other international media partners. The places where wealth is hidden are familiar: the British Virgin and Cook Islands. The range of implicated people is overwhelming. As ICIJ describes:

They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran’s nuclear-development program.

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Details will continue to come out for some time, but journalists working with ICJI have published reports on some of the biggest revelations:

“The deputy prime minister’s wife, as well as top managers of major Russian military contractors and of giant government-controlled companies, are among an array of Russian figures with secretive offshore investments.”

Bribes for Venezuelan officials were funneled through tax havens, court filings claim.”

Greek citizens who own or direct offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens rarely declare them to Greek tax official."

“Records show [former dictator Ferdinand Marco]’s oldest child, now a Philippine provincial governor, didn't disclose British Virgin Islands trust in asset declarations required for public officials.”

The “deputy speaker of Mongolia’s Parliament admits he had $1 million Swiss account.” He may be forced to resign.

Tony Merchant, “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.”

“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.”

Politicians and billionaire business magnates are among the prominent Thais [almost 600 of them] listed in secret documents as owners of offshore holdings in tropical tax havens.”

[Famed art collector] “Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza built up part of her collection buying art from international auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s through a Cook Islands company.”


Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.