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International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Updated: 11 min 12 sec ago

More than $500 million recovered by tax authorities worldwide following the Panama Papers

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 16:47

More than $500 million has been recouped by tax authorities worldwide after the Panama Papers revelations, first published in April 2016.

Spain alone collected $122 million after an investigation into the affairs of tax residents who had stockpiled money offshore. Among the countries represented in the Panama Papers data, a total of 15 – on three continents – have publicly commented on the amount of taxes recovered by tax authorities.

This number could keep growing with several countries still conducting audits on the basis of the Panama Papers information. In Canada, 123 audits are underway and several criminal investigations are ongoing, according to the Canada Revenue Agency. South Korea also reported having recouped $1.2 billion in taxes this year, though it is not clear what percentage is directly connected to the Panama Papers.

Last July, the German federal police agency announced it had bought the Panama Papers data. The agency conducted raids and has so far frozen two million euros. Danish tax authorities also acquired a portion of the Panama Papers data from an unknown source and are investigating 320 companies and 500 to 600 individuals linked through the data to Denmark.

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Earlier this year, the founders of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were arrested on money laundering charges after authorities raided the firm’s headquarters as part of investigations into Brazil’s largest-ever bribery scandal, known as Lava Jato.

Rómulo Bethancourt, one of Panama’s organized crime prosecutors, has been investigating Mossack Fonseca’s alleged role in an international corruption probe. “We have a solid case,” Bethancourt said in March about his agency’s investigation of Mossack Fonseca in relation to Lava Jato. A separate investigation is ongoing into Mossack Fonseca and the Panama Papers.

ICIJ partners have kept exploring the Panama Papers data for new leads. In Bolivia, ICIJ partners unveiled last October the use of a Panamanian company by American businessman Jacob Ostreicher to do business in Bolivia. Ostreicher was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of money laundering. He later accused a Colombian woman who used to work for him of fraud. She went to jail while Ostericher escaped Bolivia, thanks to the help of American actor Sean Penn, who helped get him transferred from prison to house arrest, which he then left behind.

One of the most remarkable developments of the Panama Papers in 2017 unfolded in Pakistan last July when the Supreme Court, in an unanimous vote, removed the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from office.

The Panama Papers investigation reported that three of Sharif’s children were owners or had the right to authorize transactions for several companies, including two that owned “a UK property each for use by the family” of the companies’ owners. Sharif’s daughter Mariam, widely seen as her father’s political heir, was the owner of two British Virgin Islands-based firms.

In Belgium, the police raided the offices of Belfius bank in connection to revelations that its former subsidiary, Experta Corporate and Fund Services, had been a prominent client of Mossack Fonseca. 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 ICIJ Belgian partners Le Soir, Knack and De Tijd.

In Malta, inquiries into the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri are still ongoing. The initial Panama Papers revelations, involving Schembri as well as then-energy minister Konrad Mizzi and Panamanian companies, were followed by additional allegations of money laundering and corruption involving shell companies and trusts, resulting in no fewer than five magisterial inquiries.

A Dutch regulator started criminal proceedings against a few trust offices based on the Panama Papers findings from ICIJ partners Trouw. As a result, the law which regulates trust offices will also become stricter January 1, 2018. Earlier this year, a Dutch parliamentary hearing concluded that tax advisers and other intermediaries were ignoring the spirit and intent of the law by helping hide the identity of beneficial owners and helping them avoid taxes.

Other countries have implemented reforms following the ICIJ investigation. In Canada, the government formally committed to creating a register of beneficial owners, although it is not yet clear when it will be publicly accessible. The Canadian government also increased the budget of the Canada Revenue Agency by more than $500 million to hire more auditors and investigators.

The European Union published its blacklist of 17 tax havens this month, including Panama. But other major tax havens were missing from the list, including the British Virgin Islands, where Mossack Fonseca registered half of the companies it set up between 1970 and 2015.

A milestone for transparency was reached last April in Mongolia where a conflict of interest law for public service was amended to ban civil servants and public officials and their immediate family members from holding or using offshore accounts.

Other countries haven’t produced any visible results from the Panama Papers revelations. In Nicaragua and Mali for example, tax authorities have not publicly announced any recouped taxes following the Panama Papers.

In Tunisia, ICIJ partner Inkyfada recently reported that the national anti-corruption body had opened an investigation but closed it “after receiving a note from the judicial and financial unit” and that “the Tunisian Parliament had in turn created a commission of inquiry, but its work has not really been pursued since.”

The post More than $500 million recovered by tax authorities worldwide following the Panama Papers appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

What ICIJ is reading (and watching) this holiday season

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 16:58

Being an investigative journalist isn’t all secret meetings in carparks and hanging out in dark bars in the middle of the night. As ICIJ’s director Gerard Ryle says, a journalist’s inspiration for the next big investigation can sometimes come from the most mundane parts of everyday life.

It was a big year here at ICIJ (Paradise Papers, a Pulitzer and going independent) and for many the holiday season means a much needed break.

So what do developers, data researchers and investigative reporters do in their down time? Practice reading excel sheets, or watching the latest movie about The Washington Post, perhaps…

Instead of leaving you pondering, we thought we’d ask our small (but ambitious!) team what they had planned for holidays.

Caitlin Gingley, ICIJ’s grants manager, in Washington, D.C.

Caitlin has become famous in the D.C. office for her new pup, Izzy (who we’re hoping to adopt as an office dog, just quietly). So she’ll have good company when she sits down to watch some “great” TV – Shameless (U.S. version) and Call the Midwife.

“Shameless is as hilarious as it is dark and depressing, which is pretty tough for a show to pull off. Call the Midwife is my go-to British period drama for the moment.”

“All of this TV watching also gives me an excuse to sit on my couch for a week with a cute pup by my side.”

Who wouldn’t want to watch TV with this cutie? Pierre Romera, ICIJ’s chief technology officer, in Paris France.

Our tech-guru Pierre is heading to the French mountains for a break (“where the winters are very cold and depopulated”). He plans to read The WindWalkers (Alain Damasio) over his break. He may have only read 100 pages so far… but he speaks pretty highly of the sci-fi novel.

“A long and intense story is exactly what a slow reader like me needs in order to rest peacefully by the fire, watching the snow cover the kitchen garden. I couldn’t dream about a better reward after this crazy year!”

“ “The WindWalkers” (La horde du contrevent in French) is a story about an elite group trying to find the source of an intense wind that reduced the civilization to ashes. After 800 years, they are the 34th horde, trained since childhood, to go on this journey. Sci-fi already has space opera as subgenre where space plays a central role in the dramaturgy.

“The WindWalkers is a wind opera, where the wind shapes the recital like it shaped the world where this story happens. The vocabulary in this book is unique, precise and very poetic. You’ll love this adventure if the sand in Mad Max or Star Wars evokes an intimate feeling, harsh, dirty and unpleasant.”

Hamish Boland-Rudder, ICIJ’s digital editor, in Sydney, Australia

Now Hamish claims this is all about his daughter… but we think maybe he’s just a fan of the Eric Hill “classic” (his words, not ours), Where’s Spot? We think he’s under the wine bottle…

“While impressed by ICIJ’s Paradise Papers investigation, my eight-month-old daughter thinks I need to further hone my investigative skills, and has committed to helping me. We’ll be searching for Spot the dog under the bed, in the piano and under the stairs all through the holidays until I get it right.”

Scilla Alecci, ICIJ’s reporter and Asia coordinator, in Washington, D.C.

Scilla is the brain behind ICIJ’s Paradise Papers video (how do you sum up a year-long investigation in 4 minutes?) content and she’s also a pizza snob… we mean, Italian. She’s headed home this holiday to watch indie movies in “cozy Roman theaters” and jump around!

“I’ll be spending my holidays in Rome, Italy, where, among other things, I plan to catch up with some indie movies from Europe and the Middle East. On my list are: “The Insult,” by Lebanese cinematographer Ziad Doueiri, “The Square,” by Swedish director Ruben Östlund, and “The Teacher” by Czech director Jan Hřebejk.

“And in the event I get bored… I can always practice some recently-learned Parkour moves jumping from an ancient Roman ruin to another.”

Cecile S. Gallego, ICIJ’s data journalist and researcher, in Paris, France.

ICIJ has a few comedians (or want-to-bes!), but it appears our French data journalist Cecile is more serious than most. She’s watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel this holiday season.

“I thought I’d try to figure out how to make it as a female comedian in case this whole journalism thing doesn’t pan out.”

Will Fitzgibbon, ICIJ reporter and Africa coordinator, in Washington, D.C.

Will, like many of our staff, has spent the best part of a year reading legal emails and tax restructuring documents for the Paradise Papers. So in a bid to “restore” his sanity he’s taking a road trip.

“I’ll be heading down South on a road trip to Savannah, Georgia. I’m told the city is lovely. But what excites me most is the large pancakes that I’m bound to find dotted along the way at diners and restaurants.”

Emilia Diaz Struck, ICIJ’s lead researcher, in Washington, D.C.

Emi, as she’s known around our office, is taking a well-deserved break from her spreadsheets. She’s the only ICIJ member that seems to be in the Christmas spirit too… with a bit of festive TV planned.

“A full collection of Christmas Movies. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Christmas movies during Christmas? Combine some good classics and be adventurous watching new ones!”

She’s also going to watch The Crown (despite the Queen being named in our Paradise Papers coverage, I must add). “As the new season is already out, it is time to watch it! This one will cover the fifties. It is an interesting series as it combines the life of Queen Elizabeth with key moments of Global history.

On her reading list? Murder on the Orient Express and El séptimo Rafael.

Miguel Fiandor Gutierrez, ICIJ’s web and data application developer, in Madrid, Spain

Our Madrid-based developer, the mastermind behind our Offshore Leaks Database, is taking a family break this winter! (I’m a bit jealous of all these European adventures..)

“I’ll go skiing and on some mountain walks or hiking with my family,” he told us.

Gerard Ryle, ICIJ’s director, based in Washington, D.C. and Sydney, Australia

If Gerard’s adage about the best investigations coming from our everyday lives is anything to go by, then perhaps ICIJ’s next big story will be a crime thriller… based in Northern Ireland?

On his reading list this holiday season: Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone and Colin Bateman’s The Prisoner of Brenda.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Gerard says ICIJ would happily accept any information on organized crime… in the U.K., Ireland, or anywhere in the world. Get your leaks into us here.

The post What ICIJ is reading (and watching) this holiday season appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

Four Caribbean tax havens added to the Offshore Leaks Database

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 15:20

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is today releasing information from four secrecy jurisdictions’ corporate registries that were included in the Paradise Papers investigation: Barbados, the Bahamas, Aruba and Nevis. There are now a total of 55 jurisdictions searchable on the the Offshore Leaks database.

In total more than 160,000 entities and close to the same number of shareholders and directors of those companies were added to the Offshore Leaks database, which already includes data from the Offshore Leaks, Panama Papers and Bahamas Leaks projects as well as the portion of the Paradise Papers data connected to the offshore law firm Appleby.

With this release, the Offshore Leaks database now has information on more than 680,000 entities like companies, foundations and trusts.

These four jurisdictions were previously highlighted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as being “uncooperative tax havens.” However, the OECD removed them from the list after they committed to implementing the OECD’s standards of transparency and exchange of information.

Despite that, Barbados was included on the European Union’s recent blacklist of tax havens while Aruba was part of the “grey list” that agreed to amend or abolish its “harmful tax regime” by 2018.
EU Member states did not include Bahamas or the federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, noting when the list was released that they “were severely struck by devastating storms in September 2017, causing casualties and major damage to key infrastructure.”

Each of these jurisdictions, except Nevis, has an online registry with limited information available via a company name search. However, none allow searches by officer names, which is critical to finding information about directors and beneficial owners of those entities.

Often it is these searches that allow ICIJ, and its media partners, to report on stories such as those in the Paradise Papers.

Barbados

The Barbados registry is available online but offers only restricted information and doesn’t guarantee its accuracy.

“The database is updated only periodically by a private contractor and accordingly, search results will not give a real-time reflection of all the entries,” its website notes.

“In these circumstances, the office does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or integrity of any of the search results which are obtained from this site.”

An example of the information displayed on the Barbados’ online corporate registry.

An example of the information displayed on the Barbados’ online corporate registry.

The more than 40,000 Barbados entities added to the Offshore Leaks database can be searched by company names and are connected to more than 120,000 officers. Many of these listed officers may be nominee directors. For example, Trevor A. Carmichael – a top lawyer on the island and often a nominee director – is is connected in the data to more than more than 1,000 companies.

In tax havens, nominee directors are third parties registered as an administrator of a company instead of its real beneficial owner or manager, who remain anonymous.

The availability of information about owners and directors in the Paradise Papers data was key to discovering that the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, was a director of two Barbados companies linked to an education finance company, one of which was called Global Tuition & Education Insurance Corp. As a response, Santos published his 2015 and 2016 income statements the following day.

Aruba

This Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela is listed on Oxfam’s recent blacklist of tax havens for its lack of commitment to adopt a package of international measures designed to curb tax avoidance by multinational companies.

The Offshore Leaks Database includes the same information available on Aruba’s corporate registry on close to 50,000 entities. However, the Offshore Leaks Database enables users to search by officer names, which is not permitted by the registry.

The vast majority of officers are Dutch (21,500), but the data also include a number of Venezuelans (2,100), Americans (1,100) and Colombians (850).

ICIJ partners in Belgium used the registry data to reveal that movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme was connected, through family members, to three companies in Aruba: Selima Corporation (registered in 1993), Selima Films (1994) and Knock Films (1997). Van Damme’s lawyers commented that “it [was] not illegal to incorporate companies in other jurisdictions.”

Nevis

The Nevis corporate registry has never been exposed until the Paradise Papers.

The jurisdiction, one of the two islands in the federation Saint Kitts and Nevis, doesn’t make any information available online. The two islands organize their financial structures independently, and the information ICIJ is releasing is only from Nevis.“With most of the offshore financial activity concentrated in Nevis, it has independently developed its own offshore legislation”, according to the U.S. State Department.

The website of the Nevis Financial Services Regulatory Commission offers information on how to register different types of entities but stays silent on how to find information on them.

The Nevis’ Financial Services Regulatory Commission.

Screenshot from the website of Nevis’ Financial Services Regulatory Commission

ICIJ is adding more than 70,000 entities from this registry to its public database. Half of these companies were incorporated by a single registered agent, Nevis-based Morning Stars Holding.

One of the island’s strongest selling points is its asset-protection law. Creditors are required to post a $100,000 bond before filing a claim against a Nevis trustee. The claim itself must be filed in a local court and is valid only if fraud is alleged.

Documents from offshore law firm Asiaciti Trust, also part of the Paradise Papers leak, reveal new details on the fortune of Kurt Donsbach, an unlicensed doctor from California. Donsbach was arrested in 2009 on charges ranging from grand theft to falsely representing a product as a cure for cancer. Some of his assets were held in a trust in Nevis, which was reconfigured in 2010 after Donsbach was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered not have any health-related business.

Bahamas

In September 2016, ICIJ published data from the Bahamas corporate registry as part of the Bahamas Leaks.

Using information from a cache of 1.3 million files from the island nation’s corporate registry, ICIJ was able to show that, between 2000 and 2009, former EU commissioner for competition policy Neelie Kroes was listed as the director of Mint Holdings Ltd., a Bahamas company that entered ultimately unsuccessful negotiations for a $6 billion deal with energy giant Enron. Kroes’ lawyer said the company was never operational and blamed her appearance in the records as “a clerical oversight which was not corrected until 2009.”

Following the revelations, the OECD’s head of tax, Pascal Saint-Amans warned the Bahamas could soon be put back on the OECD’s blacklist. As a result, the minister in charge of the island nation’s offshore industry promised to introduce automatic exchange of tax information with other countries one year ahead of schedule.

Yet, Oxfam included the Bahamas on its blacklist published last November, because the island did not commit to a set of rules agreed upon internationally to fight tax avoidance, has a 0 percent corporate tax rate and hasn’t signed agreements on automatic exchange of information.

ICIJ is updating today its existing data with information related to more than 500 new Bahamian entities.

Based on this additional information, ICIJ partners uncovered the offshore connections of former Pakistan’s prime minister (2004-2007) Shaukat Aziz.

Aziz, who worked for Citibank before starting his career as a politician, was one of the shareholders and directors of Bahamas-registered Cititrust Limited from 1997 to 1999, along with other executives of the bank.

While ICIJ is publishing data extracted from the documents it received from the Paradise Papers leaks, it may not reflect the full data available on those corporate registries.

ICIJ is not publishing the entire leak and is not disclosing raw documents or personal information en masse.

In addition to updating its public database of offshore companies, two weeks ago ICIJ released a version of Neo4j Desktop with the Paradise Papers and the other Offshore Leaks graph data. This ready-to-use software includes tutorials and guides on how to download and search the entire Offshore Leaks data using, for example, Neo4j’s cypher query language.

ICIJ will be adding more information from other offshore registries connected with the Paradise Papers in 2018.

The post Four Caribbean tax havens added to the Offshore Leaks Database appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

Appleby launches legal action against ICIJ’s UK partners

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 22:53

Appleby, the offshore law firm at the center of the Paradise Papers investigation, has launched legal action against the BBC and The Guardian, the British newspaper reported.

The Bermuda-founded law firm demanded the disclosure of documents used by the news outlets in their reporting and is seeking damages for reporting on what it says is confidential information, according to The Guardian.

The Guardian and the BBC’s reporting on the Paradise Papers – a leak of 13.4 million documents, including almost half of them from Appleby’s global operations – revealed how some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, most powerful politicians and iconic corporations used secretive companies to manage assets and to avoid taxes.

This is a potentially dangerous moment for free expression in Britain Gerard Ryle

Appleby said it was “obliged” to take legal action to find out what documents were taken and how many of their clients were affected.

“Our overwhelming responsibility is to our clients and our own colleagues who have had their private and confidential information taken in what was a criminal act,” an Appleby spokesman was reporting as saying in a statement. “We need to know firstly which of their – and our – documents were taken. We would want to explain in detail to our clients and our colleagues the extent to which their confidentiality has been attacked.”

The Guardian and the BBC said they will defend themselves. The Guardian called the lawsuit an “attempt to undermine our responsible public interest journalism.”

The BBC said its reporting on the Paradise Papers revealed secrets that had already spurred governments into action.

“This is a potentially dangerous moment for free expression in Britain,” said ICIJ director, Gerard Ryle. “By sharing the data with journalists across the world we are able to bring a new kind of scrutiny to power.”

“The BBC and The Guardian have been part of recent collaborations into financial secrecy that have changed laws from the United States to New Zealand to Europe, sending a strong message to the corporate world that some of the behavior we revealed is no longer acceptable.”

The post Appleby launches legal action against ICIJ’s UK partners appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

How to fundraise for ICIJ on Facebook

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 17:22

Here at ICIJ, we’re always exploring new ways to spread the word about our work and our mission. As a nonprofit, we’re also looking for innovative ways to raise a few bucks. So we get pretty excited when we find a way to do both.

Facebook now allows users to create fundraisers for causes and organizations they care about. It’s a great way to highlight issues that are important to you (like investigative journalism) and leverage the reach and power of your social networks to raise awareness – and raise money.

This is where you come in.

If you’ve been thinking about supporting ICIJ, this is a great way to get started and encourage others to join you. Or, if you’ve already given to ICIJ this year, this is a meaningful way to continue  supporting us by getting your friends and family involved. Create a fundraiser on your birthday and ask friends to donate as a birthday gift to you. Or highlight one of your favorite ICIJ stories and explain that we need donations to keep reporting on these critical issues.

Facebook has made the entire process really easy. We’ve broken it down for you in 4 simple steps.

Step 1: Go to our Facebook page and click “Create Fundraiser” in one of the three places.

Step 2: Fill in the fundraiser details: How much do you hope to raise? When you want the fundraiser to end? We’d suggest keeping your fundraiser to no more than a month – you want to use it as a chance to tell people why you’re raising money for ICIJ, but not over do it.

Step 3: Now, give it a title. Tell your friends and family why you are raising money for us. Do you want to see another project like the Panama Papers? Maybe you want to support our Offshore Leaks Database – that gives you access to millions of offshore details.

Step 4: Add a cover photo. This should highlight more about why you’re donating. You can use some of the images that we’ve posted to Facebook (like our Paradise Papers artwork shown here).

And, that’s it! Now you can start encouraging your friends and family to support ICIJ.

Make sure you share your fundraiser on Facebook – and use this an another opportunity to tell people why you support the work we do.

If you have more questions about how this works – like how does the money raised on Facebook get to ICIJ – you can read more here. You can also reach us at donate@icij.org with any and all questions about donating.

Happy fundraising!

The post How to fundraise for ICIJ on Facebook appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

Adventures in Paradise… A trip to Bermuda draws an odd call from the government

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:16

Having said cheerio a few days earlier to Bermuda and its sparkling pink beaches, immaculate streets, potent rum Swizzle cocktails, colorful shorts and dark kneesocks, I was back at my grey desk in Washington grinding through some incorporation records and bank statements when the phone rang.

Bermuda’s Department of Immigration calling.

“Someone” had handed over my business card, an agent said by way of explanation for the call.

What was the purpose of my recent trip to Bermuda? an agent asked, more or less out of nowhere. What had I done in there?

A bit of a swim, I replied. A little tourism. Some…research. In a flash, the call was over.

“Well, that felt like a warning,” I decided after hanging up.

The unexpected phone call was one of the odder moments in reporting on the Paradise Papers, an investigation into the offshore financial secrets of politicians, moguls, and some of the world’s most profitable companies.

Will found taxi drivers were proud promoters of Bermuda’s offshore industry. i Vice Will's taxi ride in Bermuda

A large chunk of the 13.4 million files that make up the Paradise Papers came from Appleby, a global offshore firm founded in Bermuda.

Understanding Appleby, one of the world’s most prestigious offshore legal advisors, would be key, I thought, to understanding the offshore sector, which has drawn increasing attention from governments, asset recovery lawyers, activists, and average Joes and Janes.

I had spent the previous 10 months at my desk in ICIJ’s Farragut Square offices reading spreadsheets, bank statements, emails and other documents.

In doing so, I had learned a lot about Appleby and where it fit into this global system of secrecy and tax avoidance: how much money it made (more than $100 million a year), how it fought off lawsuits (“hope that the plaintiffs could run out of gas,” lawyers discussed in one case), and how it interacted with government officials (a former BVI minister, while accusing the firm of hiring foreigners over BVI citizens, once told an Appleby lawyer to “Go home tonight and be a human!”).

But obviously there was a lot I didn’t know, and I thought a trip to Appleby’s office and one of the islands it calls home could help. Old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, we call it (or, in this case, perhaps “sandal-rubber reporting”). Anything could be valuable, from speaking to locals to seeing where the rich and the other half, including the (few) homeless, live.

Once on the ground in Bermuda, it didn’t take long to realize how small the island’s financial beating heart was. Will Fitzgibbon

Visiting a place can be a reminder for journalists that what we are writing about is real, that the people are just not names and addresses on an invoice. It puts abstract matters into sharper focus.

For months, for example, I had been reading up on the Bermuda office of Glencore Plc, the Anglo-Swiss commodities trading giant. A major Appleby client, Glencore for years had used a small office space within the law firm’s premises. The “Glencore Room,” Appleby employees called it.

I knew from the Paradise Papers that Glencore’s Bermuda companies were behind some mind-bogglingly large transactions. Multi-billion dollar loans passed through the Bermuda room — at least on paper.

The profile of Major Appleby found in the local library. Reginald Woodifield founded Appleby

In reality, I had learned from Appleby’s files that no full-time Glencore employee worked there and the room rarely housed more than a checkbook, a fax machine and a computer server that occasionally broke down. This was a purported nerve center one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies. I ached to see what the room actually looked like.

The trip was coordinated with reporting teams from Japan, Australia, Denmark and the U.S. and took weeks of planning over email, the secure messaging service Signal, and ICIJ’s collaboration space, known as Global I-Hub. All of us planned to converge on the island at the same time for extra digging and to meet Appleby if we could.

After a six-hour flight from Washington through New York, I arrived at the airport to meet the team from Vice News Tonight on HBO. Vice had been following ICIJ and the “making of” the Paradise Papers for months.

Once on the ground in Bermuda, it didn’t take long to realize how small the island’s financial beating heart was.

Appleby’s office, for example, is a few doors down from the Bermuda Monetary Authority, the regulator that had fined the firm’s subsidiary in a 2015 confidential settlement for failing compliance tests.

No organization thrills at the idea of an unplanned visit by 20 journalists. Especially not a law firm that sells discretion and confidentiality. Will Fitzgibbon

During the day, reporters scoured the island for interviews with locals, experts, politicians past and present in an effort to get a feel for the place. Australian reporters spoke with Jamaican restaurant cooks about Bermuda’s high cost of living. Japanese reporters zigzagged across main thoroughfares, stopping pedestrians to canvass Bermudians on their views, if any, on the offshore financial industry in their midst.

In search of more information on Major Reginald Appleby, the law firm’s founder, I made my way to Bermuda’s National Archives and dug through 60-year old newspaper clippings and parliamentary debates.

Eventually, a helpful librarian at Bermuda’s National Library tracked down a colorful profile and photo portrait of the major. Another reminder that in journalism, as in many things, librarians can be your best friend.

Locals were uniformly among some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. Taxi drivers were eloquent and proud promoters of the island’s offshore industry. That said, the fares cost a small fortune.

One evening, all the journalists who weren’t filming Bermudian sunsets for their Paradise Papers documentaries gathered in my hotel room to plan the next day.

The main topic: how to approach Appleby in the most professional manner possible and with the greatest chance of being granted an interview.

No organization thrills at the idea of an unplanned visit by 20 journalists. Especially not a law firm that sells discretion and confidentiality. But our job as journalists is to seek answers and to offer as many chances as possible for a response.

The Appleby receptionist, a true Bermudian, was polite and helpful. “Take a seat,” she said. I think the day we arrived was her birthday. Balloons bobbed by her desk.

Will (right) and ICIJ partners have an informal meeting in Bermuda. i Hidefumi Nogami/Asahi Shimbun

We saw the visit as an opportunity for Appleby and ICIJ to have a conversation. It had been nearly two weeks since ICIJ sent our first list of questions to the company. We knew that our questions had been received but had received no word on whether the company would grant an on-camera interview. As we waited, we wondered what was happening in the offices above our heads.

After 30 minutes or so on the couch, Appleby dispatched an employee from the facilities department. Blood-orange red Bermuda shorts and all.

He wouldn’t give his name, answer questions or accept a letter with some questions for Appleby’s attention.

He did, however, thank me for my business card.

The post Adventures in Paradise… A trip to Bermuda draws an odd call from the government appeared first on ICIJ.

Categories: News

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.

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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.

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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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