Our reporting of previously secret off-shore companies and trusts from the British Virgin Islands to Singapore will continue throughout this year. The exact value of wealth held offshore in tax havens is hard to come by, but it is estimated to encompass $21-32 trillion in private financial assets.
So far, the work by the Center’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has been republished or cited some 6,500 times by news organizations worldwide. Media in France, Spain and other places have given front-page play to stories about ICIJ’s reports, which have become known in shorthand on Twitter and in many news outlets simply as “Offshore Leaks.” The reaction has been positive, in almost all cases.
- A reporter for the Financial Times tweeted that “the leak of 260GB of data on offshore companies – this could be the biggest story of the year.”
- A Belgian news website called this “Probably the most significant journalistic collaboration in history.”
- However, a Wall Street Journal columnist called it an “offshore witch hunt.”
Already we can see the impact the stories are having, especially in Europe, where governments have been moving toward more transparency:
- French President François Hollande called for “eradication” of the world’s tax havens and told French banks they must declare all of their subsidiaries. He also announced the creation of a special prosecutor to pursue cases of corruption and tax fraud. The New York Times suggested Hollande’s bold move was motivated by a domestic political scandal, an ailing economy and “angry public reaction” to ICIJ’s reports.
- Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker announced his country plans to lift bank secrecy rules for European Union citizens who have savings based in the country, ending decades of bank secrecy in Luxembourg. “We are following a global movement,” Juncker told parliament in a state-of-the-nation address.
- Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov is moving his offshore assets back to Russia after ICIJ’s revelations that Shuvalov’s wife Olga Shuvalova was either a shareholder or owner of several secretive offshore entities.
- The Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government investigation into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands, will be released within two weeks.
- Athens’ district attorney Panayota Fakou has started a preliminary probe to find out if Greeks who own offshore companies unearthed by the ICIJ investigation have evaded taxes or laundered money.
- And the European Commissioner for Taxation, Algirdas Šemeta, called for an automatic exchange of information between countries and a “tough common stance.” “Recent developments, fueled by the outcome of the Offshore Leaks, confirms the urgency for more and better action against tax evasion … Now it is time to put words into action.”
Meanwhile, requests that we turn over the leaked off-shore data to authorities are continuing to come in from various governments, including the U.S., France, Canada, Greece, the Philippines and others. French budget minister Bernard Cazeneuve, for example, joined the clamor from governments around the globe in urging ICIJ and its media partners to release the offshore tax haven files to them, to “aid justice and help them do their job.”
So far, ICIJ and its worldwide media partners have declined such requests and have chosen not to simply release raw mountains of data. ICIJ is continuing its responsible investigations in country after country, focusing on the public interest—public figures, banking and business leaders, as well as the crooks and fraudsters, who make use the off-shore industry to hide their money.
As we are seeing with the initial release of previously secret tax haven information, transparency and accountability can be powerful motivators for changed behavior and demands for more scrutiny.
Until next week,