Thursday, April 4, 2013

Owners of Anonymous Tax Havens Exposed

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) just launched a multi-year project aimed at stripping away the biggest mystery associated with tax havens: the owners of anonymous companies.

Drawing from a trove of 2.5 million secret files, ICIJ led what may be the largest cross border journalistic collaboration in history. ICIJ’s investigation opens the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, as well as nearly 130,000 individuals and agents -- exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con artists, and the mega-rich in more than 170 countries.

Secrecy For Sale: Inside The Global Offshore Money Maze is ICIJ’s largest investigative reporting project in its 15-year history. It lifts the curtain on the offshore system and provides a transparent look into the secret world of tax havens and the individuals and companies that use and benefit from them. (Continue reading for links to their latest exposés.)

The files that the ICIJ has uncovered identifies the individuals behind the covert companies and private trusts based in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands, Singapore and other offshore havens. They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as Russia corporate executives, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Wall Street fraudsters, international arms dealers and families and associates of long-time dictators. 

While reporting by ICIJ and its partners shows that many users of offshore are engaged in legitimate transactions, the project team’s investigations raise questions about the lack of transparency, lax law enforcement and illegal practices that are prevalent in the offshore world.

The collection of information, totaling more than 260 gigabytes of data, includes corporate files, emails, account ledgers, and other records that show cash transfers, incorporation dates and links between individuals and companies. It is believed to be one of the largest collections of leaked data ever gathered and analyzed by journalists.

The files illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy to avoid taxes, fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations. The current banking crisis in Cyprus is one example of how the offshore system can impact an entire country’s financial stability. 

The ICIJ worked with 86 investigative journalists from 46 countries and used data mining software and old fashioned shoe leather reporting to unveil the previously hidden, but thriving world of fraud, tax dodging and political corruption. To analyze the documents, ICIJ collaborated with journalists from The Guardian and the BBC in the U.K., Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and 31 other media partners around the world.

The reporters and editors on the project team thoroughly fact-checked the data and cross-referenced it with other information, including court records, government reports and financial databases. Team members interviewed hundreds of experts, government officials, attorneys, offshore clients and other sources around the world.

They are in a unique position to undertake this work. Their global network of investigative reporters spans more than 60 countries. This has been the purpose of ICIJ since it was founded in 1997 as a project of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington DC-based non-profit.

One of the main investigative tools they are using – and which was donated to them free-of-charge – is specialist software from the Australian-based company NUIX, which is a worldwide provider of information management technologies and its technology allows for the processing, managing and searching of large volumes of unstructured data.

Reporters did not, at least until now, typically use the software. According to NUIX, it is used by law enforcement agencies, corporate regulatory bodies and government departments.

The public can help us in this critically important work by feeding them further leads about the offshore world that point them to things that might be important. If you have story tips, documents or other information about this issue, contact them at

Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze (the links)

How the nominee trick works - Three pieces of paper allow companies' real owners to hide behind 'nominee' directors.

Inside the shell: Drugs, arms and tax scams - Arms deals between North Korea and Iran, money-laundering by Mexican drug lords, and Russia's largest tax fraud: the common element is a 68-year-old Queensland businessman, Geoffrey Taylor.

Meet the Queen of Nevis - British woman living on goat-tramped Caribbean outcropping listed as director for more than 1,200 companies.

Cosmetic surgery tycoon had secret offshore company - The millionaire head of a controversial cosmetic surgery chain, the biggest in the UK, owned a secret offshore company linked to the clinic, it can be revealed.

Front Men Disguise the Offshore Game's Real Players - Joint probe by ICIJ, the BBC and the Guardian unmasks 28 "nominee directors" who pose as public faces for more than 21,500 companies.

‘Fatal Blow’ Against Sham Corporate Directors Not So Fatal After All - UK’s crackdown on Channel island ‘Sark Lark’ simply scattered key players to other tax havens.

Nominee Directors Linked to Intelligence, Military - Companies making use of offshore secrecy include firm that supplied surveillance software used by repressive regimes.

Britons Snapped Up Luxury Villas on Thai Island - Former tennis star David Lloyd among UK citizens who used offshore companies to buy high-end properties on island of Phuket.

Post-Soviet Billionaires Invade UK ... Via British Virgin Islands - Questions arise as mega-rich from Russia and former Soviet republics descend on London.

Who’s Buying Britain? Probe Reveals Real Estate Speculators Hidden By Offshore Alchemy - Secretive trusts and companies born in British Virgin Islands have helped anonymous buyers snap up luxury properties in London and other UK locales.

One Block in London, Many Secret Owners - Bankrupt Irish developer and the Ukraine’s richest man are among individuals linked to hyper-lux apartments for the super rich.

Disclosure of secret offshore documents may force top Mongolian lawmaker to resign - Deputy speaker of Mongolia’s Parliament admits he had $1 million Swiss account.

Taxmen Have Little Clue of Offshore Companies Owned by Greeks - Officials say they will check ICIJ’s data for any evidence of misconduct by owners of offshore companies.

Ferdinand Marcos’ Daughter Tied to Offshore Trust in Caribbean - Records show late dictator's oldest child, now a Philippine provincial governor, didn't disclose British Virgin Islands trust in asset declarations required for public officials.

Ponzi Scheme Used Offshore Hideaways To Shuffle Investors’ Money - Bribes for Venezuelan officials were funneled through tax havens, court filings claim.

'Crony' of African Strongman Among Thai Names in Secret Offshore Files - Politicians and billionaire business magnates are among prominent Thais listed in secret documents as owners of offshore holdings in tax havens.

Elites Undermine Putin Rail Against Tax Havens - Owners of corporations registered in British Virgin Islands include top managers of state-controlled giants.

Canadian Senator's Husband Shifted Money Into Offshore Tax Havens - Lawyer Tony Merchant, Canada’s “class action king,” sought secrecy for Cook Islands trust.

Offshore companies provide link between corporate mogul and Azerbaijan’s president - Members of Azerbaijan’s first family have had been shareholders in at least four offshore companies, newly revealed records show.

How ICIJ’s Project Team Analyzed the Offshore Files - The ICIJ’s exploration of the secretive world of offshore companies and trusts began after a computer hard drive packed with corporate data and personal information and e-mails arrived in the mail.

Mega-Rich Use Tax Havens to Buy and Sell Masterpieces - Famed Spanish art patron uses island haven in South Pacific to manage her collection.

British Virgin Islands Well-Known for Sunny Beaches – and Strict Secrecy - The Caribbean island chain is a favorite haven for attention-shy company owners.

* Technical Note: If by chance you experience any problems accessing the links at the ICIJ's website by using Firefox, try using Internet Explorer (I normally use FIrefox as my web browser but used IE with Private Browsing for the ICIJ website.

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