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International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Updated: 53 min 1 sec ago

ICIJ’s Anuška Delić makes Politico 28 Class of 2018

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 19:02

Anuška Delić is not someone who goes unnoticed. Opinionated, brazen and bold, her tenacity and relentlessness has made her the foremost investigative reporter in Slovenia and among the most influential in Europe. This week, she’s made the Politico 28 Class of 2018, “the list of doers, disrupters and dreamers who will transform European life, politics and ideas,” selected by the publication Politico.

And disrupt, she does.

Delić, an investigative and data journalist at Delo, is an network partner of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. She has worked on a number of significant cross-border reporting projects, such as the Paradise Papers, the Panama Papers and The Azerbaijani Laundromat.

More importantly, she launched, managed and coordinated The MEPs Project, a cross-border reporting project that was unprecedented in scope, challenging Members of European Parliament (MEPs) for greater transparency, and ultimately challenging the Parliament itself at the European Court of Justice.

Here she discusses the project, how it began, what it led to and what she’s learned from it so far.

How did you get the idea for The MEPs Project?

It started with a conversation about the European Parliament with my colleague Nils Mulvad from Denmark after I had requested data from Parliament exclusively for Slovenian MEPs. I was turned down. I was really upset because the Freedom of Information Act in Slovenia explicitly states that information pertaining to the spending of public money or exercise of public duty, which I was requesting, is public information and, in theory, I would be able to get this information more or less quickly.

Four women at the helm of 29 journalists V The European Parliament. #TheMEPsProject pic.twitter.com/lqNddFslXL

— Anuška Delić (@007_delic) October 19, 2017

In my conversation with Nils, a lightbulb went off and I said, “Oh, wow, maybe I should just get journalists from all EU member states to file the same request and put pressure on the European Parliament.” Not only that, it would be a symbolic push with journalists across Europe demanding the same thing. This is how the project started.

What were some findings from the project that surprised you?

The investigation we did this year was on the national offices the MEPs used to conduct their work in their member states. I’m not talking about Brussels or Strasbourg, but their national offices in their home countries. We started this project with the primary question: “How do the MEPs spend the allowance they receive?” That allowance is about EUR 4,342 per month as a lump sum. No questions asked. It’s supposed to be spent specifically, more or less, on their office costs — rent, etc.

Blindly trusting 751 MEPs to follow rules without any oversight is utopian. Why would they spend the allowance on how it was meant to be spent if no one is looking?

So we thought, okay, let’s see who the MEPs pay their rent to. We wanted to find out who the office owners were, at least in countries where we could find this out, as not all countries had open land records.

In the process, we found out that national offices of a third of MEP’s could not be accounted for! That was a huge surprise. We were naive in thinking that if an MEP received 4,000 or so euros every month to finance his or her office costs, we assumed they would have an office. We didn’t think it was possible they wouldn’t have a national office at all.

What were the greatest challenges and obstructions you faced?

The MEPs didn’t call us, and offered us no chance to focus and narrow our requests.

There were a few countries where not even one MEP answered the questions put forward by reporters and the reporters tried everything: we called, visited, everything. We had trouble in Poland and in Bulgaria, where not a single MEP answered our questions.

We needed to call them because some of them had no information published about their national office. In Italy, many MEPs didn’t answer at all. In Germany, some MEPs didn’t answer; instead the party chairmen answered on their behalf with blanket statements insisting they were doing everything according to the law.

If had we been asking these questions a few months before European elections, would they have ignored reporters’ questions? Maybe we picked the wrong time.

What are the implications of MEPs refusing to be transparent on how public money is spent?

Our investigations showed that blindly trusting 751 MEPs to follow rules without any oversight is utopian. That will never happen. Why would they spend the allowance on how it was meant to be spent if no one is looking?

I think many things go unnoticed in European institutions because the media and the public are not paying enough attention. Anuška Delić

I really believe that [opaque] public spending was not among EU’s founding principles. EUR 40 million has been spent annually on these allowances without any questions asked for years. We’re talking more than a couple of hundred million euros here. There was one MEP who claimed he was saving this money for a pension. Another who claimed he donated this money to his political party. This is crazy!

This echoes the UK Parliament expenses scandal a few years back, which caused an uproar. Have you seen a similar reaction?

At the national level there was some shock. People were surprised some MEPs didn’t have an office, but there hasn’t been as big of a reaction on the national level as there was for the UK scandal. The Parliament reacted by establishing a working group but it seems so far that it’s not going to implement auditing but only a more specific list of what the allowance can and can’t be used for, but they won’t monitor MEP spending in any way although we’ve shown that this is absolutely necessary. This is public money. I think many things go unnoticed in European institutions because the media and the public are not paying enough attention.

The MEPs Project journalists have taken the European Parliament before the European Court of Justice for refusal to provide access to certain information. Could you explain the background of this?

When the project began in 2015, we filed the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests jointly but we knew we weren’t going to get these documents because a year prior to this project, the Parliament refused to give me access to them for Slovenian MEPs. We knew eventually when the request process was over we would have to decide whether we were going to the European Ombudsman or to the European Court of Justice. The Ombudsman’s decisions are not binding because even if the Ombudsman were to say, “This is public information, you need to give it to the journalists!” the European Parliament can still decline. We knew we had to go to court.

What was the atmosphere like in court?

Our pro-bono lawyer Nataša Pirc Musar, a lawyer from Nataša’s office, Rosana Lemut Strle, and their assistant Tina Kraigher Mišić and I were present for this hearing. It felt really great to be there. I was extremely proud of the fact that four women were taking on the European Parliament and I was very proud of the work Nataša, Rosana and Tina did for the case. It was three and a half hours but it felt like five intense minutes.

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We don’t yet know when they’re going to rule on the case. What surprised me, though, was that their defense was based on an “excessive burden exemption.” It was only at the court hearing when we were informed that we requested approximately a million documents. The Parliament claimed they only hold about 900,000 documents on paper and that an MEP can have one cupboard full of papers pertaining to their allowance spending and some may have thirty cupboards full.

Whenever a large amount of documents is in question the Parliament should call the journalists requesting the information to negotiate about the types of documents needed for the story and it may well be not all of them are necessary. Due to a lack of transparency we don’t know what documents are valuable to us or not, but the MEPs didn’t call us, and offered us no chance to focus and narrow our requests.

So do they each have their own accounting process?

I’m afraid the internal supervision is weak. The defense was illustrating their difficulties in “cupboards.” The judges asked as to how many cupboards we’re talking about and the defense said it depended on the MEP. So basically, these MEPs are given these allowances, where they need to provide some kind of receipt and they just stick them in a cupboard? They don’t submit them into a system or something? They should have some kind of electronic oversight, but keep everything on paper. I do hope our case will not only lead to a greater transparency but also to a better document management.

Isn’t it their job to answer to their constituencies?

Well, this should always be the case. If it isn’t then we, the journalists, step in. We also heard one more, if I may say, “analogous” argument at the court. The defense claimed that because we are now living in the age of Twitter and Facebook (the MEPs) will be bugged all the time on social media about how they spend their allowance, which is our money.

Many things go unnoticed in European institutions because the media and the public are not paying enough attention.

But as journalists, we have one simple answer to this assertion: The more transparent you are, the less questions will get asked! And when we discuss public money spending, the exemptions should really be limited. In our case we mostly focused on personal data protection as an obstacle to greater transparency. We claim that when performing an MEP function politicians cannot expect as much privacy as “regular” EU citizens.

As a veteran reporter, what advice would you give younger reporters, especially in dealing with FOI requests that are obstructed?

Get a good lawyer! I really encourage journalists to check out European institutions. There’s so much untapped information there that they can work with and it’s not taken advantage of nearly enough.

As far as national requests are concerned, go out there and don’t stop. Any request that we make as journalists, even if we get declined, and then complain and sometimes succeed only half-way and so forth, all of this functions as a way to open up government to the public whether local, national or supranational. FOI requests and complaints, the entire process, is inherently connected to working in the public interest.

Are there any particular databases on this project that you think are underused by journalists?

There’s the database we launched on MEP offices for the public to search, verify or even send us tips to whether an MEP has an office or not. If they have an office, we’ve input information on who owns it, whatever public information we can get about it, and how this MEP voted on transparency of public spending.

This article was written by  and first published by the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

The post ICIJ’s Anuška Delić makes Politico 28 Class of 2018 appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

Belgian authorities raid bank linked to offshore companies found in Panama Papers

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 22:30

Belgian police raided the offices of state bank Belfius on Tuesday as part of a probe into possible tax avoidance by companies exposed in the Panama Papers, the 2016 global investigation into the offshore industry led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Belgian media reported that the Dec. 5 raid follows last year’s revelations that Belfius’ former subsidiary, Experta Corporate and Fund Services, had been a prominent client of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the center of the Panama Papers probe based on 11.5 million leaked files.

Experta, a tax consulting firm, helped to establish hundreds of offshore companies on its clients’ behalf, allegedly taking advantage of lax reporting requirements for foreign accounts, according to the Belgian news organization Knack.

Experta was formerly a subsidiary of Belifus (which was previously called Dexia). i Panama Papers How Experta featured in the Paradise Papers

The ICIJ and its media partners revealed that Experta requested the Panamanian law firm set up 1,659 offshore entities for clients in Belgium, France and Germany. Most of the companies have since closed.

Experta, whose services range from accounting and tax advice to financial planning, according to its website, was a unit of Dexia Group — the Franco-Belgian bank later renamed Belfius — until 2011. That year Experta was sold to Banque Internationale à Luxembourg.

The leaked files also showed that dozens of private meetings took place between Experta and Mossack Fonseca lawyers between 2002 and 2011, Knack reported. Directors of Dexia, the former parent bank, included Belgium’s ex Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, and authorities are now investigating what role the bank’s managers played in the tax avoidance schemes.

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The raid at the Brussels headquarters of Belfius signals that, after months of investigation by the federal police anti-fraud unit, Belgian authorities have begun to close in on the most active players in the offshore advisory business.

Since the ICIJ and its media partners published the Panama Papers in April 2016, at least 150 inquiries in more than 70 countries have been announced, and governments around the world have investigated more than 4,500 taxpayers and companies, according to ICIJ estimates.

On Tuesday Belgian officers seized computers and files documenting Dexia and Experta’s business operations, De Tijd reported. A Belfius spokeswoman told local media that the bank is cooperating with the investigation.

In the aftermath of the Panama Papers revelations, politicians criticized Experta for enabling tax avoidance, and possibly helping clients hide funds, even after its former parent Dexia had been rescued by a $3.7 billion government bailout in 2008.

“It is inconceivable for a financial institution, which has been supported by taxpayers money, to become involved, actively or passively, in tax evasion on such a scale,” said Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt last year, according to Belgian media.

The post Belgian authorities raid bank linked to offshore companies found in Panama Papers appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

What is your university doing in the Paradise Papers? Help us find out

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 21:44

Why do more than 100 universities and colleges have offshore investments? And what are they investing in?

During the Paradise Papers investigation, ICIJ’s reporters found more than 100 universities and colleges from United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Some of these institutions hold tens of billions of dollars in their endowments, but in the eyes of the law, most of those earnings are treated tax-exempt.

Some other types of university investment earnings could be taxable – if not for a system that has been set up to prevent it.

We want your help to investigate what universities and colleges are doing offshore.

We’re creating a small group of journalists for a project dubbed ‘Alma Mater’.

A snapshot of the offshore connections of New York University and Princeton University. New York and Princeton University

It comes after several of our partners, The New York Times, The Toronto Star and The Guardian, reported on the offshore schemes used by some of these institutions.

Their stories looked at how they used offshore schemes to avoid tax, support fossil fuel investment and what effect that might have on the institution’s reputation.

ICIJ’s readers responded. They wanted to know more. So now we’re launching Alma Mater to explore the many universities that have not been covered in depth yet.

Who are we looking for?
  • We’re looking for investigative journalists or education reporters, who can give several weeks to focus on this project.
  • We want people who are familiar with encryption, or who are willing to learn.
  • We want people with ideas. Why is this story important? Why do you want to cover it?
  • Most importantly, we’re looking for collaborators. ICIJ’s model is to work together. Journalists share their results with the group and publish on an agreed upon date.
What will you get?
  • Training from ICIJ on how to use our platforms, security protocols and have to search our data.
  • You’ll also get access to relevant data so you can find the story yourself.
  • The power of collaborations is in the people who take part. You’ll work with journalists across the world to find the best stories.

Want to take part in our project?

Fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you in early January!

 

The post What is your university doing in the Paradise Papers? Help us find out appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

How ICIJ went from having no data team to being a tech-driven media organization

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:04

Technology is one of the ingredients of ICIJ’s secret sauce in projects like the Paradise and the Panama Papers. The custom-built tools we’ve developed over the years have allowed hundreds of reporters around the world to access millions of files securely at the click of a mouse. Journalists that didn’t know each other collaborated hand in hand remotely, using a virtual newsroom to gather and share their findings. Complex issues seemed less so with the help of visualizations.

ICIJ has been producing global investigations for more than 20 years, but it was only three and a half years ago that ICIJ created an in-house data team. Mar Cabra, who was head of the Data & Research Unit from its creation until September this year, recalls how it all started, the iterations on the software based on the reporting needs and the lessons learned along the way. The story below is a chapter she contributed to the book Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future (Abramis, 2017), which was published in October, one month before the Paradise Papers broke.

This post also appeared in Source.

In April 2015, I had a conference call with my boss, the director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Gerard Ryle. He didn’t want to tell me the purpose of the call in writing. When we started talking, he spoke to me in code language to avoid naming names. The bottom line was that Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper with which we had worked in the past, had a leak of about one terabyte, too big for them to handle. They wanted ICIJ’s help, and Gerard was seeking my advice as the editor of the data team on how to proceed.

‘How on earth are we going to do this?,’ I thought, but I didn’t tell that to him. Even though I felt a bit overwhelmed by the situation, I knew I had a great team I could count on to tackle this challenge. What I didn’t imagine at that time was how big of a role we, and our technology, would play in what became at the time the largest collaborative investigation in journalism history.

The so-called Panama Papers exposed like never before a system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, hidden by secretive offshore companies. It had historic global effects. At least 150 inquiries, audits or investigations were announced in 79 countries around the world due to its revelations. There were resignations from high-ranking officials, including the prime minister of Iceland. The prime minister of Pakistan was removed from office. ICIJ won almost twenty awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Data Journalism Award.

We were lucky that such a request for help by Süddeutsche Zeitung came to us at that point in time. ICIJ was founded in 1997 as a global network of investigative journalists who collaborated on in-depth investigative stories but it was not until 2014 that it incorporated a data team for its newsroom. That doesn’t mean data had not been important to investigations before. Data was key in a two-year series on overfishing called Looting the Seas (2010-2012) and also to Skin & Bone (2012), an exposé on the human tissue trade. However, the project where its relevance became more evident was Offshore Leaks (2013).

Exposing the secrecy of the offshore economy

When Gerard became ICIJ director in the fall of 2011, he brought a hard drive with 260 gigabytes full of documents that exposed the secrecy of the offshore economy. The investigation was not easy on many levels. One of the most difficult parts was making the data available to partners around the world. Seeing that assisting all of them would be too labour intensive, we resorted to technology to help us. We ended up putting the documents in the cloud and making them searchable securely on the web; we had an online forum to share leads and discuss the research, and we created a public website for our readers to explore the names of the people with companies in tax havens. Freelancers – including myself – and the data team at La Nación newspaper in Costa Rica, with which ICIJ collaborated, did most of the data work.

One of the lessons learned from Offshore Leaks –and its sequel, China Leaks– was that ICIJ needed data journalists and programmers in-house. When we started the next project, ICIJ hired two of the developers we had worked with before, Rigoberto Carvajal and Matthew Caruana Galizia, and ICIJ put me in charge of the team. In April 2014 – one year before that call from my boss – the ICIJ data team was created.

Our first year was hectic. ICIJ published three investigations over that period and a fourth was being reported – many more than the average the organization had been doing in recent years. Our team’s mission was nothing short of ambitious: ‘to add a data component to every project ICIJ does right from the start and not as an afterthought.’

The projects that took most of our time were those connected to leaks. Our first task was dealing with more than 1,000 image PDFs of secretive tax agreements between corporations and the Luxembourg government. We needed to make them searchable and available to reporters worldwide. It was a similar problem to the one we faced in Offshore Leaks, but this time we wanted to use open-source tools that would allow us to keep improving the system as the need grew. Matthew had the brilliant idea of using a software called Project Blacklight, originally created for library catalogues, to allow reporters to search documents remotely. To improve the virtual newsroom where journalists interacted on a regular basis, Rigoberto proposed to repurpose Oxwall, an open-source social networking software meant for dating – among other things.

As we were working on this, the French newspaper, Le Monde, shared with ICIJ 60,000 leaked files from the bank HSBC. They were mostly spreadsheets with names of people connected to accounts in its Switzerland subsidiary and the amounts of money in those accounts – in many cases, hidden from the tax authorities. We also used Blacklight and Oxwall in this project and executed an agreement with a French company to use its software, Linkurious, to visualize connections and follow the money more easily. In these two projects, we created the base of the stack that would later allow us to move quickly on the Panama Papers.

ICIJ’s Rigoberto Carvajal (left) with Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Frederik Obermaier to show reporters the power of graph databases. i Kristof Clerix

As our tools and platforms solidified, the number of journalists working on ICIJ projects and their engagement grew. LuxLeaks (2014) involved more than 80 reporters in 26 countries. Swiss Leaks (2015) more than 140 reporters in 45 countries.

On top of helping reporters secure access to the documents, we performed data analysis – the key to strengthening the articles – and created interactive applications that were among the most viewed items in ICIJ’s website.

Becoming essential to ICIJ’s investigations

Leaks were not the only type of data we worked on. In Evicted & Abandoned, a project about how the World Bank regularly failed to protect people displaced by development, we estimated 3.4 million people had been affected in a decade and created a unique database of projects using public data. In Fatal Extraction, we combed corporate data and combined it with information from our reporters in the field to reveal deaths, injuries and community conflicts linked to Australian mining companies across Africa.

Within a year, we had grown to a team of five and were around half of the people in ICIJ’s small newsroom. We added Emilia Díaz-Struck as research editor and hired then-intern Cécile Schilis-Gallego as a data journalist. This is the team I was counting on to help me solve the Panama Papers data challenge after the director called me.

Firstly, we travelled to Munich to get the data. Rigoberto flew in from San José, Costa Rica, and I from Madrid, Spain. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment which we converted in our base camp to copy encrypted hard drives. During the first meeting with our German colleagues, we discovered the complexity of the data, and one of my first comments to my bosses was: we need to hire an extra developer for the team. A few weeks later, Miguel Fiandor joined us from Spain.

The data included mostly emails, but it had millions of PDFs and images that needed to be made machine-readable. We used more than 30 servers in the cloud to process them in parallel to make the first batch of data ready for reporters in less than two months. That was the most difficult part, because after the data was searchable, we used the same tools we had created for the previous projects. In late June, ICIJ had its first meeting with a small group of reporters in Washington, D.C. to kick-off the project, although most journalists joined in September after a meeting in Munich.

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As the months progressed, the leak grew to be 2.6 terabytes and contain 11.5 million files, which meant we had to continue processing data throughout the whole project. The number of reporters involved also skyrocketed – we had almost 400 when the investigation went live in April 2016. They produced more than 4,700 articles.

With more reporters, more needs appeared: we had to create a ‘support team’ to help them with problems over our platforms; we created manuals and conducted training in three languages for people on four continents, and we kept improving our tools until publication. For example, we incorporated a popular feature to search for lists of individuals and know, in one go, if there were any hits. We also updated the public database of offshore companies, making it the most-used product in the history of the ICIJ. Today, it is used by reporters, investigators and authorities around the world to chase tax evaders.

Conclusion

It’s impossible to know how the Panama Papers would have been without the work of ICIJ’s data team but, for sure, we could not have had so many reporters working on it. We would have missed many stories and would have had less impact. Technology and data worked together to make the Panama Papers become part of history.

As we move into the future, three things are clear to me. One is that massive leaks are the new standard, and we’ll see more – and bigger – leaks. Second, global collaboration is the only way to deal with the complex world in which we live. And finally, data journalism is here to stay. If you don’t believe it, let me share just one more fact: almost three years and half into its creation, ICIJ’s data team now has 11 people.

The post How ICIJ went from having no data team to being a tech-driven media organization appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

‘If the law allows this, we need to change the law’

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 18:56

A European Parliament committee has grilled Paradise Papers reporters as members grapple with how to claw back millions being lost to new, elaborate tax-reducing maneuvers.

The European Committee on Money Laundering and Tax Evasion – commonly called the PANA Committee – held its last hearing on Tuesday with a session on the Paradise Papers.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reporter Simon Bowers and ICIJ members Kristof Clerix (Knack, Belgium) and Jan Strozyk (NDR, Germany) shared some of what they uncovered while reporting on the 13.4 million leaked documents with the committee.

Documents from the offshore law firm Appleby raised serious concerns about loopholes that allow taxes and regulations to be circumvented in Europe. Examples included jet owners who use the Isle of Man to avoid paying the VAT consumption tax and online gambling businesses that used secrecy jurisdictions get around U.S. legislation that prohibited knowingly accepting payments for a bet or wager on the internet.

Last hearing of EP #PANA Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion. With @ICIJorg investigative journalists behind #PanamaPapers and #ParadisePapers and @pierremoscovici pic.twitter.com/vDUWVdx2Qa

— Petr Ježek (@JezekCZ) November 28, 2017

Tech giant Apple also came up in the hearing in connection with its use of an Irish tax structure to shift its earnings to a low-tax jurisdiction.

“Early next year it is likely that Apple’s offshore cash will have doubled since the 2014/2015 restructuring,” explained Simon Bowers.

“If you are a massive company or a super wealthy individual you have access to a sort of ‘Pick’N’Mix’ of legal jurisdictions,” he added.

It shows how much protection there is surrounding these financial transactions. Mario Borghezio

“In most examples, we were seeing that you can optimize your tax affairs or your regulatory affairs by selecting and building a structure using the preferred jurisdictions, and that’s something that simply isn’t available to ordinary businesses or individuals with normal levels of income.”

“We have serious allegations here, and it’s not just about politicians but also economic circles,” said committee member Mario Borghezio.

“It shows how much protection there is surrounding these financial transactions.”

The role of intermediaries including major, multinational accounting and advisory firms was also highlighted during the session.

“Appleby is not the mastermind of these tax structures, it’s the facilitator” said Bowers. “They were offered really by the ‘Big Four’ companies.”

The ‘Big Four’ refers to the international accounting and consulting firms – PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young. All four appeared multiple times in the ICIJ’s Paradise Papers, Panama Papers and LuxLeaks investigations.

The PANA committee was set up in June 2016 following the Panama Papers revelations, an earlier project by ICIJ that dealt with many of the same issues. The committee has examined a series of revelations about the offshore industry, including the European Investigative Collaboration’s Malta Files and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project’s Russian Laundromat project.

It published its final report in November, recommending a permanent committee, similar to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in the United States.

“We used to say that corruption fights back, and here we can say the same. Tax evaders fight back,” said committee member Eva Joly.

Pierre Moscovici addressing the PANA Committee. i European Parliament Pierre Moscovici

Pierre Moscovici, the European Commission member responsible for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, called for quick action on this issue.

“This aggressive tax planning is even more shocking because a lot of it is legal,” he said.

“We can’t accept the way things are at the moment. If the law allows this, we need to change the law.”

The EU will also disclose its own list of tax havens next Tuesday. However, the list will exclude EU countries – something that was a point of contention among committee members.

Oxfam published its own black list on Monday, which included four EU member states: Ireland, Malta, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Each of those states were also found in ICIJ’s investigations.

The question of unfair practices within the EU was raised multiple times, given that the Paradise Papers revelations shed a light on tax-optimization schemes offered by EU states, including Ireland and the Netherlands.

Some committee members raised the notion of a minimum tax rate across the EU.

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Moscovici brushed off the question as not in keeping with tax sovereignty. “It’s not up to me to decide.”

The committee also specifically asked the Paradise Papers journalists about the gap they saw between what was legal and the spirit of the law.

Clerix said it was “very hard to explain to citizens” why governments set up rules that allow some taxpayers to benefit more than others.

“Just talk to any citizen who is paying tax in a normal way… they will explain to you what is fair and not fair,” he told the committee.

Bowers said, the laws had been “stretched to extent” that they don’t make sense to ordinary people anymore.

“It just doesn’t feel right.”

The post ‘If the law allows this, we need to change the law’ appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

Support ICIJ this GivingNewsDay

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 08:00

At ICIJ, we have a lot to be grateful for this year. We spun off to become an independent organization. We won a Pulitzer Prize for our Panama Papers project. And just earlier this month, we released our latest investigative project – the Paradise Papers.

All of this work would not be possible without support from our readers who care about strong, quality investigative journalism. And that’s another thing we’re grateful for – our supporters around the world who power our investigations and keep us going year after year.

As our director, Gerard Ryle, said “ICIJ relies on donations to produce investigative projects like the Paradise Papers, which take months to report.”

“Without our supporters, these stories go untold.”

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Today is Giving Tuesday, which marks the start of the charitable giving season here in the U.S. and around the world. It’s an opportunity for donors to highlight the issues and causes that are most important to them, and give back to organizations that do incredible work throughout the year.

And this year, the forces behind News Match – the largest-ever grassroots campaign to strengthen nonprofit journalism across the United States – is launching #GivingNewsDay as part of this nationwide effort.

The goal is to make 2017 a record-breaking year for donations to nonprofit news outlets, which produce the type of quality journalism that so many readers depend on.

ICIJ is proud to be part of this effort. We know very well the impact that investigative journalism can have in countries around the world.

Our journalism leads to government inquiries and investigations, forces world leaders to step down, sparks public debate, and changes laws.

Just take, for example, the European Parliament’s PANA Committee which on Tuesday will hear from three ICIJ reporters about the Paradise Papers and the findings our network of journalists found.

We want to to raise $100,000 by the end of the year so we can continue bringing you the kind of investigative reporting you can’t find anywhere else.

We’re already well on our way, and thanks to News Match, we have the opportunity to match up to $28,000 in donations we’ve received. Your support on #GivingNewsDay will help us reach our year-end goals, making us stronger and more powerful going into 2018.

You could help us uncover the next Paradise Papers.

Support ICIJ’s work today.

The post Support ICIJ this GivingNewsDay appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

The Panama Papers effect: An adaptation from Secrecy World

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 15:23

Jake Bernstein was a senior reporter for ICIJ in the 2016 Panama Papers investigation. He has published a book about the evolution of the offshore world and efforts to break through its secrecy as seen through the Panama Papers. Below is adapted from the book, Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite.

In May 2015, Michael Hudson, a senior editor at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, let me know that ICIJ had launched a project for which I might be a good fit. He couldn’t reveal the details on the phone. Instead, he encouraged me to travel to Washington, D.C to meet with Gerard Ryle and Marina Walker Guevara, ICIJ’s director and deputy director.

On the walk to lunch, Ryle told me about Prometheus, the codename for a massive data leak ICIJ was in the process of receiving. The material afforded an unprecedented view into a secret world of hidden money. It had the potential to topple governments.

This would be ICIJ’s fifth offshore leak investigation since Ryle had taken the helm of the organization.

In the past, media exposés of the offshore system tended to be localized, dependent on a small number of internal documents, the testimony of whistle-blowers, hidden camera interviews, or legal filings. An inability to look at the system comprehensively made reporting difficult, if not perilous. Secrecy laws and incomplete information hog-tied journalists who tried to expose offshore wrongdoing. Lawsuits and public ridicule frequently followed publication. A partial picture allowed critics to dismiss findings as anomalies rather than patterns.

Journalists gathered in Munich to discuss the project. i Kristof Clerix

Ryle and ICIJ helped change that. When Ryle arrived at ICIJ in 2011, he brought with him a hard drive bulging with leaked offshore data. This first project, known as “Offshore Leaks,” reverberated throughout the world when it was published in 2013. The ICIJ website received more than six hundred thousand page views in a single day, a record for the Center for Public Integrity. The team had exposed an underground financial system that everyone knew existed but had never seen. In an age of austerity, it was now incontrovertible that many of the world’s richest citizens were not paying their fair share. China Leaks, Lux Leaks and Swiss Leaks followed in quick succession.

By meal’s end I was on board, not realizing this new leak – soon to become the Panama Papers – would consume my life for more than two years.

I found myself working with some of the best investigative journalists from around the world exploring the files of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Most of the journalists already knew one another from previous ICIJ collaborations. They had learned the art of collaborative journalism through trial and error. Readers only saw the successes, scarcely realizing the mountains that had to be surmounted to reach the published page or newscast.

My new colleagues were open and helpful and as excited by the material as I was. We were united by a common purpose and a shared creed. We all believed we were toiling in the public interest. The material we uncovered was information an informed citizenry needed to have.

In the first twenty-four hours of the publication of the Panama Papers, ICIJ’s website received more than six million page views.

Throughout the world, the publication of the Panama Papers fed into attacks on journalists and preexisting political and social dramas in various countries. Reporters and editors wrestled with what part of the data was in the public interest. In Europe and the United States, the dominant concern was taxes, and people evading them. In Latin America and Africa, tax was a vital issue, but it took second place to concerns about corruption and political repression.

It wasn’t until Jürgen Mossack turned on the television and saw his life’s work on every news channel that he realized the dimensions of what had just occurred. Fonseca grew ill and largely took to his house for a week. Two days after the first stories dropped, he formally resigned from his position with the Panamanian government. Mossack, who was due to become the president of the Rotary Club, withdrew his name from consideration.

In Venezuela, the Communication Ministry sent a lengthy communiqué to the country’s media advising them not to publish stories about the Panama Papers. Chillingly, the memo also singled out by name Venezuelan reporters working for independent media organizations that had participated in the project.

In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa denounced the project participants on Twitter and rallied a troll army to send them a message. He helpfully included the reporters’ social media accounts, which were then deluged with nasty comments. A dozen or so government supporters demonstrated outside El Comercio and El Universo, the two newspapers involved in the project.

Nombres de periodistas ecuatorianos que “investigaron” Pamamá Papers:
El Comercio
Arturo Torres @Cascabelito09

— Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) April 12, 2016

As part of his efforts to rein in the media, Correa had spearheaded the creation of the Orwellian-named Citizen Participation and Social Control Council a few years earlier. The council sent a letter to the newspapers demanding that the reporters appear before it on Monday, April 18, to hand over the Mossack Fonseca data and respond to questions. The reporters sent a letter the Friday before the meeting declining to appear and explaining that they did not have the data, ICIJ did. A showdown appeared imminent. But on the intervening Saturday, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the country. As the focus of the media and the government turned to the victims and the damage, the Monday meeting was quietly forgotten.

In Hong Kong, the indomitable Yuen-Ying Chan had lined up multiple partners for the project, meeting them separately in isolated spots around the University of Hong Kong before bringing them all together. In the individual meetings, she told them about the data and solicited commitments to collaborate. The collaborators included Ming Pao, CommonWealth Magazine, and the South China Morning Post. Once again the mainland Chinese government blocked the information.

The day after Ming Pao devoted its entire front page to its Panama Papers findings, the executive chief editor, Keung Kwok-Yuen, was fired. The paper’s owners cited cost cutting to explain the decision, but the staff was unconvinced. Hundreds of reporters, editors, and free- speech activists rallied outside the building in protest. It was dubbed the “ginger protest,” because many demonstrators held up pieces of the vegetable, the name of which in Cantonese sounds like the editor’s surname.

In the months ahead, Mossack Fonseca slowly dissolved, dropping from six hundred employees to eighty, while wrestling with long-overdue vetting of existing companies. The revelations and impact from the files continued as well. In 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan forced Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to step down over revelations his family held pricey London real estate through offshore companies. Attacks on journalists escalated, most tragically in the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a well-known Maltese anti-corruption blogger and mother of an ICIJ staffer.

Less than three weeks after her brutal murder, ICIJ and its members published the Paradise Papers. The work continues.

Adapted from Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite, to be published by Henry Holt on November 21.

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Categories: News

News Match to raise money for ICIJ on #GivingNewsDay

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 19:19

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has joined forces with several foundations and is asking the public to join a national day of giving. The following is our statement.

Every year, millions of Americans mark the Tuesday after Thanksgiving by donating to nonprofit and philanthropic causes as part of Giving Tuesday. This year, ICIJ is proud to participate in News Match—the largest-ever grassroots campaign to strengthen nonprofit journalism across the United States— that is launching #GivingNewsDay as part of this nationwide effort.

“This Giving Tuesday, we’re asking our readers to support the groundbreaking coverage that we do every day. ICIJ relies on donations to produce investigative projects like the Paradise Papers, which take months to report,” said ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle.

Support ICIJ this Giving Tuesday.

“Without our supporters, these stories go untold.”

With a goal of making 2017 a record-breaking year for donations to nonprofit news, ICIJ is joining more than 100 local and investigative newsrooms who are eligible to receive up to $28,000 each in matching grants, totaling more than $6 million in new support for journalism.

Giving Tuesday encourages people to support the causes that matter to them, and #GivingNewsDay is a reminder that quality journalism shines a spotlight on those issues every day.

ICIJ is a global network of more than 200 investigative journalists in 70 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories. Our mission is to cover issues that cross national borders – crime, corruption, and the accountability of power – and produce investigations that generate real-world, global impact. Recent projects include the Panama Papers, Bahamas Leaks, and the Paradise Papers, which was just released in November 20117.

ICIJ works with a range of media partners on every project, from outlets like the New York Times and BBC to smaller regional nonprofit investigative centers. ICIJ has won numerous awards for its groundbreaking collaborations, including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

News Match 2017 was launched by Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation to support nonprofit news organizations like ICIJ that play a vital role informing the public and holding those in power accountable.

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“Trusted nonprofit news organizations like ICIJ are essential to building stronger communities, holding our decision makers accountable, and providing people with the information they need to contribute to civic change. Ensuring they have a bright future is in all of our interests,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.

There are a number of ways you can contribute to ICIJ’s fundraising. These include our online donation form, PayPal, by phone (+1 (202) 800-0160) or by email between now and the end of the year.

All news organizations participating in News Match are members in good standing of the Institute for Nonprofit News. To be a member, an organization must be a 501(c)(3) or have a 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, must be transparent about funding sources, and produce investigative and/or public-service reporting. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law. Visit newsmatch.org for more information.

# # #

About the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists:

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is a global network of more than 200 investigative journalists in 70 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories. ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity to focus on international issues, like cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power. Its aim is to bring reporters together in teams on projects that spark global and lasting impact. To release its findings, ICIJ works with leading news organizations worldwide, ranging from outlets like the New York Times and the Guardian to small regional nonprofit investigative centers. ICIJ’s projects have been honored repeatedly and received the Pulitzer Prize in 2017.

About the Institute for Nonprofit News:
The Institute for Nonprofit News is an incubator and support network for nonprofit newsrooms, strengthening the sources of independent, public service information and investigative journalism for thousands of communities across the U.S. INN is the only organization in the U.S. specifically focused on supporting the emerging nonprofit news sector. For more, visit INN.org.

About Democracy Fund:
The Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $60 million in support of effective governance, modern elections, and a vibrant public square. For more, visit democracyfund.org.

About the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation:
Founded by Edith Kinney Gaylord, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation’s mission is to invest in the future of journalism by building the ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information. For more, visit journalismfoundation.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

About the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation:
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy, as well as the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. More information is available at macfound.org.

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Categories: News

Read the Paradise Papers documents

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 22:03

ICIJ is releasing additional emails, contracts, company structures, trust declarations and more from its Paradise Papers project, a significant addition to the Offshore Leaks database and part of ICIJ’s larger goal to shed light on some of the world’s most secretive jurisdictions

These documents are often referred to as unstructured, because – unlike a spreadsheet or a database – they are not easily searchable by a computer. They have been reviewed and redacted where appropriate but are rich in information and were critical to ICIJ’s reporting.

They are just part of about 13.5 million documents obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with ICIJ. Most of them are from Appleby, one of the offshore law firms at the center of the Paradise Papers.

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The news organizations don’t plan to release all documents since many haven’t yet been reviewed, include personal information on private individuals or do not involve matters of public concern.

One example of the unstructured documents are those relating to ICIJ’s story that exposed tax-avoidance practices of jet owners on the Isle of Man, ICIJ released a handful of documents from Appleby’s Isle of Man office.

One document shows how professionals working for Formula One racing champion Lewis Hamilton created a company on the island to import a private jet, allowing Hamilton to collect a $5.2 million refund of taxes paid on its purchase.

And this excerpt from a KPMG audit details a complex company structure – stretching from Ireland to Jersey – behind a fund that owned a catalog of music publishing rights, allowing the fund’s beneficiaries to avoid taxes on royalties generated, mostly in the United States, by these country, jazz and pop classics.

The following is a list of all original documents that ICIJ has published so far. This list will be updated as new ones are added.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his Russian business ties: Kremlin-owned firms linked to investments in Facebook and Twitter: Offshore services law firm, Appleby, and its history of compliance failures: Mining giant Glencore and its operations in the Congo: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraiser’s offshore maneuvers: The offshore gurus who help the rich avoid taxes on jets and yachts: Leaked documents expose the secret tale of Apple’s island hop: How Nike stays one step ahead of the regulators Burkina Faso and the development dreams that stand still while money move offshore: U.S. political donors playing the offshore game: Go inside the secret world of offshore mega-trusts: The rise of Mauritius as a tax haven The role of offshore in forest destruction: Thousands of classic American songs tucked away tax-free: ICIJ’s Power Player’s interactive:

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Categories: News

Back to School: Paradise Papers Help Students Learn About Offshore Finance

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 17:41

How do tax havens work? Who benefits from using them? And who loses out?

ICIJ and its partners tackle these questions in our investigative reporting, and now the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is taking these questions into classrooms to help students understand the murky world of offshore finance.

The Pulitzer Center supported two features of ICIJ’s latest project, the Paradise Papers. The Influencers interactive revealed the close associates of United States President Donald Trump who use offshore finance, and the Snax Haven video explained how the tactics used by multinational companies to avoid tax.

These two features along with numerous ICIJ stories form the backbone of two lesson plans built by the Center and made available to school teachers.

The first lesson plan takes a step back to look at the broader issue of tax avoidance through offshore structures. It asks students what would they do if they could be completely anonymous, and why might wealthy businesspeople seek out this sort of anonymity?

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The lesson goes on to show some of the schemes multinational corporations use to slash their tax bills, and looks at who loses out when profits are funneled into tax havens. It also asks questions about some of the powerful individuals with links to offshore companies, and why it matters that important decision makers might have an interest in the offshore financial system.

The second lesson plan goes behind the scenes of the Paradise Papersinvestigation to focus on investigative journalism, and how reporters go about gathering information, building a story and, ultimately, how they tell that story to their audience.

Both lesson plans are available for free via the Pulitzer Center’s website, along with lesson plans from previous ICIJ investigations the Panama Papers and Fatal Extraction.

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Categories: News

More than 100 universities and colleges included in Offshore Leaks Database

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 15:06

Hidden in the 25,000 offshore entities we added to the Offshore Leaks Database today are some of the world’s most prestigious universities and colleges.

ICIJ and its partners found more than 100 educational institutions in offshore law firm Appleby’s client database, which was part of the Paradise Papers leaks.

Some of these elite institutions hold tens of billions of dollars in their endowments, and in the eyes of the law, they are treated as charities: altruistic, mission-driven and tax-exempt.

The only time university endowments pay taxes is when they invest in debt-financed financial firms such as private equity funds and hedge funds. These investments are considered a business activity unrelated to their tax-exempt missions.

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As ICIJ’s partners at The New York Times reported, large numbers of universities have adopted an offshore scheme that allows them to avoid even those taxes. The universities assign entities called “blocker funds” legal responsibility of otherwise taxable investments. These entities are incorporated in zero-tax jurisdictions such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Consequently, wealthy universities have settled en masse on a strategy for reaping Wall Street-sized investment gains tax free.

American universities whose endowments appear in the Paradise Papers using blocker funds include Columbia, Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins.

Dozens of other U.S. colleges, as well as flagship universities in the United Kingdom and Canada, appear connected to blocker funds, as well as offshore investments in the oil and gas industry or other companies and financial firms based in tax havens.

Is your university or alma mater using offshore investments?

Take a look at the list below and see if your university is included:

To share news tips with ICIJ and the Paradise Papers journalists you can reach ICIJ on a number of platforms including SecureDrop, Signal, WhatsApp, Wire and more.

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Categories: News

First Paradise Papers data to be added to ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 17:58

Information on more than 25,000 new offshore entities will be added to ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database this Friday, as ICIJ begins to publish the structured data from the Paradise Papers leaks.

The Friday release (morning EST / early afternoon GMT) will encompass the structured data from Appleby’s client records, and includes information on offshore companies and trusts registered in more than 30 jurisdictions. The data includes shareholders, officers, addresses, and more.

The Offshore Leaks Database already includes data from ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks, Panama Papers and Bahamas Leaks investigations. The addition of the structured Appleby data will take the overall number of searchable records to more than 520,000.

ICIJ will continue to release more structured data to the database in the coming weeks, including more than 100,000 records from multiple secrecy jurisdictions included in the Paradise Papers investigation. Please sign up to our email list to receive updates in your inbox.

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Categories: News

HSBC to pay $352m to settle tax evasion charges in France

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 15:17

HSBC Holding PLC agreed Tuesday to pay $352 million to settle charges that it helped wealthy clients of its private Swiss bank evade taxes in France.

The investigation that resulted in the settlement was based on data found by French authorities in 2009 when they searched the home of Herve Falciani, a former IT employee of the Swiss bank who fled to France from Geneva. Swiss prosecutors, concerned that he had information from thousands of bank files from 2006 and 2007, had requested the search.

The same data was later obtained by ICIJ via the French newspaper Le Monde and resulted in the Swiss Leaks investigation. The data, which covered accounts holding more than $100 billion, disclosed the bank’s dealings with clients, including those engaged in behavior that included tax evasion, bribery and arms dealing.

“HSBC has publicly acknowledged historical control weaknesses at the Swiss Private Bank on a number of occasions and has taken firm steps to address them,” the bank said in statement.

The investigation focused on whether HSBC’s Swiss bank had helped its clients to illegally avoid paying taxes worth $1.9 billion in the years covered by the data.

The settlement was the first under a French law introduced in 2016 and similar to deferred prosecution agreements in the United States, which allows companies to settle without an admission of guilt.

“The investigation regarding HSBC Holdings has been dismissed,” HSBC said in its statement. The bank also said it had already made provisions for payment of the settlement, so it won’t negatively impact its financial results.

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Categories: News

Wealth inequality ‘crisis’ as richest 1 percent account for half the world’s wealth

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 23:30

Global inequality has worsened since the millennium, with a new report finding the richest 1 percent account for half of the world’s wealth.

The world’s top 1 percent held 45.5 percent of all household wealth in 2000. Now, they hold 50.1 percent, according to Credit Suisse’s annual Global Wealth Report.

The report highlights that Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) – people who are worth more than $50 million – as being the driving force behind the gap. This group of wealth holders has grown five-fold since 2000.

“While the bottom half of adults collectively own less than 1 percent  of total wealth, the richest decile (top 10 percent of adults) owns 88 percent of global assets, and the top percentile alone accounts for half of total household wealth,” the report said.

It was also the wealthy who benefited from the global fortunes following the 2008 global financial crisis with wealth inequality rising across all regions, except for China where median wealth declined.

The report offers a reminder that anti-poverty groups aren’t the only ones publishing eye-popping numbers on global inequality; the severe numbers are also being confirmed by the financial services firms that specialize in helping the rich grow their assets.

“It fits broadly along with the things we really noticed this year — that is, the massive increase of wealth in just one unit,” Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at Oxfam International, said of today’s report.

i Credit Suisse/James Davies, Rodrigo Lluberas and Anthony Shorrocks. The top 1 percent own have the global wealth, according to Credit Suisse.

The report comes a little more than a week after ICIJ and more than 90 media partners around the world released the Paradise Papers, an investigation that seeks to shed light on the offshore financial services industry, a significant driver of greater shares of wealth accumulating at the top.

The investigation revealed ways in which the offshore world offers billionaires and the companies they own a means to reduce their taxes under a deep veil of financial privacy, allowing them to grow their assets in dazzling exponentials.

“You’ve got a direct link between tax havens and this explosion in the wealth of the super-rich which we see in the report today,” Lawson said.

“They’re using industrial levels of tax avoidance to make sure their fortunes are shielded from the tax man. They’d be less wealthy if they paid the tax they owe.”

i Credit Suisse/James Davies, Rodrigo Lluberas and Anthony Shorrocks. The world’s wealth levels in 2017, according to the latest Credit Suisse report.

The Paradise Papers investigation, based on a trove of millions of leaked files from leading offshore law firm Appleby,  shed light on the use of these havens by some of the world’s wealthiest individuals.

The files revealed that James Simons, a hedge fund billionaire and top US political donor, used the low-tax jurisdiction of Bermuda to quietly grow one of the largest private trust funds ever discovered. It also showed how multinational corporations like Apple and Nike have avoided billions in taxes, often using mazes of offshore entities that shift earnings and assets overseas — away from public scrutiny and tax collectors.

“The offshore industry makes “the poor poorer” and is “deepening wealth inequality,” Brooke Harrington, a certified wealth manager and Copenhagen Business School professor, told ICIJ’sreporters for the Paradise Papers investigation.

“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,” Harrington said.

While the Paradise Papers provide a view into the elaborate mechanisms by which the wealthy move their assets away from public coffers, today’s Credit Suisse report shows how these maneuvers have manifested in broad terms, although the report does not name offshore services providers or tax avoidance as drivers of its findings.

This is clearly a crisis… and it is a crisis that is getting a lot worse. Max Lawson

The report states that half the world’s population — 3.5 billion adults with wealth below $10,000 — account for just 2.7 percent of global wealth.

“In contrast…the 36 million millionaires comprise less than 1% of the adult population, but own 46% of household wealth,” the report said.

The growth of “financial assets,” commonly defined as stocks, bonds and other investments, has outpaced the growth of real assets, like homes and land — with the rich benefiting handsomely from this trend.

This has been most true, according to the report, in wealthier countries, where  millionaires and billionaires fare far better than those in poor countries.

“The United States continued its remarkable unbroken spell of gains after the financial crisis,” the report states, noting that many countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa saw growth of less than one percent – or even shrinking overall wealth. Credit Suisse attributed this to “adverse currency movements.”

“This is clearly a crisis,” said Oxfam’s Lawson. “And it is a crisis that is getting a lot worse.”

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Categories: News

Tax havens, legal letters and other sticky questions answered by ICIJ

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 19:30

Receiving “threatening” legal letters is a “normal part of the investigative process,” according to ICIJ’s deputy director Marina Walker Guevara.

Walker Guevara was responding to a readers question about whether or not ICIJ and its partners had be threatened.

It was just one of many questions our team – which also included our director Gerard Ryle and reporter Will Fitzgibbon – answered on Facebook last week.

The team also answered questions such as as:

You can watch a replay of all their answers below:

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Categories: News

Meet the stars in Paradise

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 16:52

They’re more accustomed to “beautiful days” and “bringing sexy back,” but this week a number of world-renowned celebrities are having the “whenever” and “wherever” of their offshore financial links revealed.

From film stars to famous manga artists, journalists working on the Paradise Papers investigation have followed the money to cities where the streets do have names – and where local authorities, in at least one case, were asking questions.

Files from the Maltese corporate registry revealed pop star Bono, born Paul Hewson, was a shareholder of a Malta-based entity that bought a shopping centre in a small town in Lithuania. The company was later transferred to Guernsey, a jurisdiction that doesn’t charge tax on corporate profits. After Lithuanian authorities announced a probe on the company’s business, Bono said that he welcomes the audit and that he has “been assured by those running the company that it is fully tax-compliant,” according to the Guardian.

 

Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, better known as “Hips Don’t Lie” singer Shakira, might “make a man want to speak Spanish,” but files from the Paradise Papers show that the Colombian pop star was actually using the tiny island of Malta to transfer more than $30 million of music rights, according to Spanish paper El Confidencial.

Shakira was listed as the sole shareholder of the Maltese company which, her lawyers told reporters, “fulfils all legal requirements.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, pop singer Justin Timberlake and actress Nicole Kidman – recently named Australia’s richest celebrity – were both found in records from the corporate registry in the Bahamas, an island chain in the Caribbean. The Guardian reported that they are linked to companies registered to buy properties on the island.

Queen of pop and world-famous “material girl” Madonna, was listed as a shareholder of a medical-supplies company in Bermuda, now closed. She did not respond to questions from ICIJ and its partners, and the purpose of the company remains unclear.

The use of offshore entities to manage private wealth and conduct business is not illegal. However, experts say that the high level of secrecy provided to corporate owners by some offshore jurisdictions may allow criminals to conceal illicit funds and keep tax-evaders far from the authorities’ reach.

The leaked documents also provided details on the disputed fortune of late frontman of Australian band INXS. They show how the business manager of Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997, lawfully set up a Mauritius company to cash in on the singer’s estate. The manager used the offshore entity to exploit Hutchence’s unheard songs ahead of the 20th anniversary of his death this year – according to an ABC Four Corner report. It is not clear whether Hutchence’s daughter will benefit from her father’s rights and multi-million dollar inheritance.

In France LeMonde and RadioFrance reported that Jean-Jacques Annaud, the film director of 1997 film “Seven Years in Tibet,” hid about $1.5 million from French tax authorities using a trust in the Cayman Islands and two companies. His lawyers said that, after the revelations, Annaud asked them to regularize his fiscal affairs and the assets were declared in October.

From the files also emerge details on the offshore interests of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. The Indian Express reported that the actor became a shareholder of a Bermuda company before the government began to require Reserve Bank approval for all overseas investments made by resident Indians. It’s not clear if the shareholding was disclosed, the report says.

Japanese manga artist Akira Toriyama, better known for creating popular cartoons like “Dragon Ball” also figures in the Paradise Papers. In 2000 Toriyama was one of the investors in a U.S. real estate company whose accounting methods were later found to be noncompliant with federal regulations, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo.Toriyama did not comment on the investment.

via GIPHY

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Categories: News

Arrest warrants, investigations and more as world responds to Paradise Papers

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 22:12

Governments around the world are swinging into action in response to the Paradise Papers, launching investigations, audits and issuing the first arrest warrants stemming from the investigation’s findings.

A prosecutor in Argentina called for the arrest of four officials at a public university for their roles in an alleged money laundering scheme involving mining operations linked to commodities trader Glencore.

The warrant in Argentina was one of several government actions in Latin America, in addition to official responses in countries in Europe and Asia:

  • Argentina: A prosecutor in the Argentine province of Tucuman issued arrest warrants for four officials at the University of Tucuman, in connection to an alleged money laundering scheme connected to mining company La Alumbrera. La Alumbrera was linked to offshore companies belonging to Swiss commodities giant Glencore that were used to reduce taxes on mineral resources extracted from Argentina.
  • Chile: Two government agencies announced investigations into Paradise Papers revelations. Tax authorities have pledged to investigate Chilean companies that appear in the leaked files, and the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications said that it had contacted tax officials to contribute to an ongoing audit of Alsacia-Express, a major operator of public buses that had conducted business offshore in Bermuda.
  • Colombia: President Juan Manuel Santos publicly released personal financial statements for years 2015 and 2016 after he was linked to two offshore companies in Barbados.
  • Bermuda: The former head of government, Michael Dunkley, predicted that Appleby would not survive after the Paradise Papers.  “Sadly because of how badly they handled the hack I suggest that they will not be a viable entity going forward,” Dunkley wrote in a Facebook post.  “This is also a reputation issue for Bermuda.”
  • Netherlands: The Dutch tax minister said the government would re-examine 4,000 advance tax rulings reached between the Netherlands and foreign companies. These agreements came under fire after the revelation that a tax ruling issued on behalf of the American consumer goods company Procter & Gamble failed to follow regulations.
  • Singapore: The central bank and financial regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said it would review the Paradise Papers and “take action against any financial institution or individual who breaches our regulations.”
  • Canada: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “satisfied” by the assurances by his longtime friend and top Liberal Party fundraiser, Stephen Bronfman, that he had not broken any laws in his dealings with offshore trusts. Opposition leaders fired back that “Canadians are not satisfied” and called for further investigation.

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Categories: News

Frequently Asked Questions about the Paradise Papers

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 16:28
Why didn’t ICIJ publish all the Paradise Papers files?

We are an investigative journalism organization and, as such, we report stories that are in the public interest. The Paradise Papers expose significant failures and weaknesses inside the offshore industry. Those stories and others we are pursuing serve the public interest by bringing accountability to the offshore industry, its users and operators.

Other parts of the data are of a private nature and of no interest to the public.

ICIJ will not release personal data en masse but will continue to mine the full data with its media partners.

Will ICIJ at least publish a database of people and companies?

Throughout November and December, ICIJ will release the names of more than 26,000 offshore entities incorporated by Appleby, Asiaciti and corporate registries and the people connected to them (as beneficiaries, shareholders or directors).

The names – with links to 180 countries – will be added to the Offshore Leaks database (published in 2013), which already contains more than 340,000 companies that ICIJ obtained in previous leaks.

Sign up to our mailing list to be the first to know when ICIJ will release updates to its database.

Will ICIJ share documents from the Paradise Papers with governments?

The long-standing policy of ICIJ is not to turn over such material.

The ICIJ is not an arm of law enforcement and is not an agent of the government. We are an independent reporting organization, served by and serving our members, the global investigative journalism community and the public.

Should I assume that everyone that appears in the Paradise Papers is involved in tax avoidance or evasion?

No. There may be legitimate reasons to create a company in an offshore jurisdiction. Many people declare them to tax authorities when that is required.

How can I join the investigation?

ICIJ welcomes the opportunity to grow our collaborations with media partners, especially from countries where the Paradise Papers have not yet been explored.

This is not easy data to understand. It took great commitment from all of our current media partners to find stories of important public interest. ICIJ provides training to partners to ensure that everyone understood the intricacies of the information they were reporting on.

If you are a journalist and want to partner with us send us an email.

How does ICIJ pick its reporting partners?

ICIJ is an independent network of more than 200 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries who work together of issues of global significance. Sometimes we go to our members with an idea for a project and sometimes our members come to us with their ideas or data.

For the Paradise Papers investigation, ICIJ members Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier from the German newspaper Süeddeutsche Zeitung shared the files they had obtained with ICIJ so we could organize a global investigation.

We are constantly working with journalists and media organizations that are not part of our network, for example in countries where we haven’t done work before.

What do we seek in our partners?
  • Journalists with a proven record in investigative reporting.
  • Media organizations that support “slow,” deep-dive investigations.
  • Journalists who are team players and are willing to share their work with other colleagues around the world.
  • Generally nice people (life is short!).
How do I get in touch with ICIJ if I want to share a tip or documents?

There are a number of ways to contact ICIJ, depending on the nature of your message or the material you would like to share.

ICIJ also uses PGP encryption: our public key can be found on the MIT PGP Public Key Server (fingerprint: 986A 572D 3B95 BD42 331E 839A B532 F18C 2A17 696B); our email address is contact@icij.org.

You can see all of the ways you can anonymously leak to ICIJ on our leak page.

Who funds ICIJ?

ICIJ is a non-profit organization. We rely on charitable foundations and on financial support from the public. Unlike other non-profit organizations, we do not take funding from governments. Without our readers’ support, we cannot exist.

Recent ICIJ funders include: Adessium Foundation, Open Society Foundations, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, The Ford Foundation, Fritt Ord Foundation and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. We also receive support from Australian philanthropist Graeme Wood.

We welcome individual donations in support of our work.

Still got a burning question? Email us and we’ll try an answer it!

The post Frequently Asked Questions about the Paradise Papers appeared first on International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Categories: News

Paradise Papers: The world reacts to Ross, Queen, global revelations

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 05:25

Political leaders and tax-justice advocates are raising new calls for legislative reforms and official inquiries in the wake of of the Paradise Papers investigation’s revelations about the offshore dealings of hundreds of powerbrokers and international corporations.

The year-long probe led by ICIJ is based on a cache of 13.4 million leaked files from 19 secrecy jurisdictions and two offshore providers, Appleby and Asiaciti. The documents were obtained by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and shared with more than 380 journalists in more than 65 countries.

Since ICIJ and its partners began releasing their stories Sunday, reactions have been reverberating from Washington, D.C., to Bermuda to London to India and all around the world:

  • United States: ICIJ’s revelations of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ interests in a company doing business with a firm close to the Kremlin have led Senate Democrats to call for an investigation on Ross’ business links. In a televised interview with Bloomberg News aired soon after the Paradise Papers made the headlines, Ross denied misleading Congress and said he will “probably” sell his stake in the company, which has been doing business with an energy company co-owned by Vladimir Putin’s son in law. Related articles
  • United Kingdom: Politicians have been pointing figures of blame in reaction to the media partners’ disclosure that the Queen of England had offshore ties to a fund that invested in a rent-to-own loan company accused of exploiting low-income Britons.
  • Canada: The country’s revenue agency, CRA, announced that it won’t hesitate to investigate new evidence of offshore tax evasion. The leaked documents in the Paradise Papers included the names of at least 3,000 Canadian companies and individuals, including three former prime ministers and the chief fundraiser for current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
  • Europe: Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, sent out a tweet to his 189,000 followers saying that it’s “time to complete the EU’s anti-tax evasion toolbox with swift decisions” on tax havens. Eva Joly – a member of the European Parliament and the deputy president of a European parliamentary inquiry on the Panama Papers – said in a statement: “If all this is ‘legal’ then it is necessary to change the laws.”
  • Spain: Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro said the country’s tax agency will investigate the names appearing in the Paradise Papers, according to news agency EFE.
  • India: Following revelations that more than 700 Indians are linked to offshore companies or trusts, the Indian income-tax department and the country’s securities regulator have announced investigations. The probes will check for any disclosure lapses, fund diversion or untaxed incomes, according to Mint, a daily newspaper.
  • Australia: A few hours after ICIJ and its partners published the first stories, the Australian Taxation Office released a statement saying it will continue to collaborate with tax agencies in other countries “to share intelligence on [tax] advisers operating globally.”
  • Bermuda: Prime Minister David Burt defended Bermuda’s tax laws in a radio interview with BBC. “You cannot hide money in Bermuda because any international tax authority can make requests and find out that information,” Burt said, according to the Guardian. He added that Bermuda would review revelations detailed in the global media investigation. Almost 7 million of the leaked files in the Paradise Papers come from Appleby, a law firm that was founded in Bermuda.
  • Cayman Islands: Jude Scott, the chief executive of industry body Cayman Finance, issued a statement in support of the British financial services sector and Queen Elizabeth II. Cayman has a “globally responsible tax regime that enables the free flow of trade, services, capital and financing around the world,” he wrote.
  • Appleby issued a second statement saying that the firm “has thoroughly and vigorously investigated the allegations and we are satisfied that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.”
  • Organizations promoting tax justice, such as Oxfam and Global Witness, renewed their concerns over the poor regulation of international financial centres and called for authorities to crack down on corporate secrecy and strengthen fiscal reform efforts described so far as “feeble.”

The post Paradise Papers: The world reacts to Ross, Queen, global revelations appeared first on International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Categories: News

Our work isn’t done: Here’s how you can help

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 22:36

ICIJ’s latest investigation – the Paradise Papers – reveals the offshore secrets of the world’s elite. Our global team of journalists spent months digging into a trove of 13.4 million records. We collaborated across newsrooms and borders, relying on innovative technology and tools to fuel our reporting. Our sort of journalism is critical because it generates immediate, long-lasting, and global impact.

And it can’t happen without your support.

As a nonprofit organization, ICIJ relies on contributions from foundations and individuals to do our work. We receive grants from several institutional funders, as well as small one-time gifts from people around the world who care about supporting strong and relentless investigative journalism.

Your support helps pay for ICIJ’s core staff, a lean and ambitious group of reporters, editors, researchers and developers who bring you investigations like the Paradise Papers.

It helps us keep our technology secure and up-to-date, and allows us to make necessary upgrades and improvements after each project.

It allows us to travel to newsrooms around the world so we can train reporters on how to use our data, tools and technology, and how to communicate and collaborate securely.

It also helps us stay independent, so we can prioritize stories that have not yet been told and need to be brought to light.

If you read and follow our work, we hope you’ll consider making a donation to keep us reporting in the years to come. We know there’s so much work left to do and so much more our reporting could uncover. Help us get there.

Questions about donating?

Q: Is ICIJ a nonprofit organization?
A: Yes. ICIJ received its status as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization by the IRS in July 2017. Our EIN is 81-4739107.

Q: What is the Worldwide Investigative Reporting Enterprise (WIRE)? I made a donation to ICIJ under that name earlier this year.
A: After ICIJ spun off from the Center for Public Integrity, we existed as a project of the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) called the Worldwide Investigative Reporting Enterprise (WIRE). INN provided fiscal sponsorship while we waited to receive our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS.

Q: Can I donate online?
A: Yes! You can donate here. We also accept donations via PayPal.

Q: I don’t want to give you my credit card information. How else can I donate?
A: If you’d like to write us a check, you can send it to:
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
910 17th St. NW Suite 410
Washington, DC 20006

Q: What is the News Match campaign, and how is it matching contributions to ICIJ?
A: The News Match campaign is an effort to grow support for nonprofit newsrooms in the US. Three foundations – the Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund and MacArthur Foundation – have pledged $3 million to the campaign and will match donations that nonprofits receive (up to a $1000 threshold) between October 1 and December 31. Each organization, including ICIJ, is eligible to receive up to $28,000 in matching funds through the campaign.

Q: I’ve already donated to ICIJ. How else can I help?
A: Spread the word! You can encourage your family, friends and colleagues to join you in supporting ICIJ (and remind them that their donation will be matched if they give before the end of the year). You can also share our work, sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And you can share this post on Facebook!

Q: You didn’t answer my question. How can I get in contact with you?
A: Feel free to email us any time at donate@icij.org.

The post Our work isn’t done: Here’s how you can help appeared first on International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Categories: News

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