Some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people will be waking up on Monday to discover that some of their best kept secrets—how they hide their vast wealth and avoid paying taxes—are now being read about in newspapers across the world after the release of a trove of offshore legal and banking documents were leaked to journalists and published Sunday as a joint project called the ‘Paradise Papers.’
First obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the documents were then shared with scores of journalists and researchers associated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media organizations, including the New York Times, BBC, and the Guardian.
“There is this small group of people who are not equally subject to the laws as the rest of us, and that’s on purpose,” said author and financial expert Brooke Harrington in response to the new insights about how these elites secretly manage their wealth.
As the ICIJ reports, the “trove of 13.4 million records exposes ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary, the secret dealings of the chief fundraiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the offshore interests of the Queen of England and more than 120 politicians around the world.” According to the ICIJ, the documents
show how deeply the offshore financial system is entangled with the overlapping worlds of political players, private wealth and corporate giants, including Apple, Nike, Uber and other global companies that avoid taxes through increasingly imaginative bookkeeping maneuvers.
One offshore web leads to Trump’s commerce secretary, private equity tycoon Wilbur Ross, who has a stake in a shipping company that has received more than $68 million in revenue since 2014 from a Russian energy company co-owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In all, the offshore ties of more than a dozen Trump advisers, Cabinet members and major donors appear in the leaked data.
At the center for the leak, explains the Guardian, is the law firm Appleby which has “outposts in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. In contrast to Mossack Fonseca, the discredited firm at the centre of last year’s Panama Papers investigation, Appleby prides itself on being a leading member of the ‘magic circle’ of top-ranking offshore service providers.”
But what exactly do the ‘Paradise Papers’ represent? This video explains:
According to a summary by the Guardian, the ‘Paradise Papers’ reveal:
- Millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund – and some of her money went to a retailer accused of exploiting poor families and vulnerable people.
- Extensive offshore dealings by Donald Trump’s cabinet members, advisers and donors, including substantial payments from a firm co-owned by Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law to the shipping group of the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross.
- How Twitter and Facebook received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions.
- The tax-avoiding Cayman Islands trust managed by the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s chief moneyman.
- A previously unknown $450m offshore trust that has sheltered the wealth of Lord Ashcroft.
- Aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple.
- How some of the biggest names in the film and TV industries protect their wealth with an array of offshore schemes.
- The billions in tax refunds by the Isle of Man and Malta to the owners of private jets and luxury yachts.
- The secret loan and alliance used by the London-listed multinational Glencore in its efforts to secure lucrative mining rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- The complex offshore webs used by two Russian billionaires to buy stakes in Arsenal and Everton football clubs.
Speaking with the Guardian, economist Gabriel Zucman—who is releasing a study later this week about the interplay between tax havens and global inequality—says the two are intricately linked.
“Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality,” he said. “As inequality rises, offshore tax evasion is becoming an elite sport.”