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The Pandora Papers Leak: everything you need to know

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Pandora Papers Leak: list of high-profile Indians

The world for many seems to be stumbled upon after the Pandora Papers reveal, and that’s just not the only thing!! Governments and linked agencies have directed investigations against unmasked celebrities, politicians and some of the richest and most powerful people. 

Unmasking the inner workings of a shadow economy that puts on the advantage the world’s wealthy and powerful individuals at the expense of everyone else, The Pandora Papers have emerged as the largest leak of offshore financial data in history accounting for 2.94TB of data.

Revelations

The documents exposed ‘offshore secrets of wealthy elites from more than 200 countries and territories. These people have used tax and secrecy havens to buy properties and hide assets; many avoid taxes and worse. They include more than 330 politicians and 130 Forbes billionaires, as well as celebrities, fraudsters, drug dealers, royal family members and leaders of religious groups around the world.

Investigation

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists invested 14 months and involved more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries structuring, researching and analyzing more than 11.9 million records in the Pandora Papers leak. The task involved three main elements: journalists, technology and time.

What is the Pandora Papers?

The world’s largest-ever journalistic collaboration, the Pandora Papers investigation is set up on a leak of confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that give professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in at least 38 low- or no-tax jurisdictions. The entities enable owners to conceal their identities from the public and sometimes from regulators. Often, the providers help them open bank accounts in countries with light financial regulation.

The 2.94 terabytes of data, which was leaked to ICIJ and shared with media partners around the world, came in various formats: from hand-written pieces to images, emails, spreadsheets and others. The Pandora Papers gathered information on more than 27,000 companies and 29,000 so-called ultimate beneficial owners from 11 of the providers.

The legal entities in the files of six providers – the companies, foundations and trusts – were all registered between 1971 and 2018. The records show providers and clients shifting their business from one jurisdiction to another after investigations and resulting rule changes. 

(Source: ICIJ)

What do 2.94 terabytes of data hold?

The leaked records consist of an unprecedented amount of information about the so-called beneficial owners of entities registered across various offshore tax havens and related jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, Panama, South Dakota and other secrecy jurisdictions. 

The data also contains information about such entities, trusts or foundations’ shareholders, directors and officers. 

The leaked data contains information dating back to the 1970s and between 1996 and 2020. As per ICIJ, “They cover a wide range of matters: the creation of shell companies, foundations and trusts; the use of such entities to purchase real estate, yachts, jets and life insurance; their use to make investments and to move money between bank accounts; estate planning and other inheritance issues; and the avoidance of taxes through complex financial schemes. Some documents are tied to financial crimes, including money laundering.”

The 11.9 million-plus records were largely unstructured. More than half of the files (6.4 million) were text documents, including more than 4 million PDFs, some of which ran to more than 10,000-pages. The documents included passports, bank statements, tax declarations, company incorporation records, real estate contracts and due diligence questionnaires. There were also more than 4.1 million images and emails in the leak.

Spreadsheets made up 4% of the documents, or more than 467,000. The records also included slide shows and audio and video files. (Source: ICIJ)

Persons exposed by Pandora Papers

Apart from the wealthiest, politicians, famous and the infamous, the records also contain information about people who are not public figures or known such as small business owners, doctors, and other individuals. More than 330 politicians and public officials, from more than 90 countries and territories, also included 35 current and former country leaders. Thirty-five current and former world leaders were identified, including King Abdullah II of Jordan, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who have all denied wrongdoing. It also identified more than 130 billionaires around the globe.

Impact

Post the explosion done by the Pandora Papers, politicians and leaders across the world are facing increasing criticism and scrutiny, and more governments around the world are pledging investigations in the wake of the biggest-ever offshore leak.

Government Agencies and enforcement agencies in India, Spain, Pakistan, Ireland, Mexico, Germany, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Paraguay and Panama have affirmed serious actions and investigations across the persons involved in secret deals and hidden assets.

Information shared by ICIJ

  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, one of the three current Latin American heads of state linked to the Pandora Papers, held a press conference on Monday at his presidential palace to address reporting on a controversial business deal exposed by the investigation. He denied conflicts of interest and said the information was already public.
  • In Malaysia, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim Monday submitted an emergency motion to the lower house of parliament requesting the House to debate Pandora Papers revelations, which include details on the offshore financial assets and business associates of former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, according to ICIJ partner Malaysiakini.
  • In a statement, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said he will address the Pandora Papers revelations after returning from an overseas visit. “That these reports will go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe,” Kenyatta said. Kenyatta and his family did not respond to more than a dozen emails, phone calls and WhatsApp messages before the publication of the Pandora Papers investigation, which revealed his family’s extensive offshore holdings.
  • In Paraguay, former president Horacio Cartes amended his public disclosure forms to add an offshore company he owned but didn’t declare during his presidency following questions from ICIJ’s partners ABC Color.
  • Among the many officials who have commented on the investigation is European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who condemned the practices exposed in the Pandora Papers and said that the EU must do more to combat tax evasion and aggressive tax planning.
  • Speaking at an event Monday in Finland, von der Leyen said that “tax evasion and aggressive tax planning is completely unacceptable.”
  • “We have in the European Union some of the highest tax transparency standards in the world, but as we see it’s not enough, more work is needed,” she said.
  • In Germany, the finance minister of Hessen, the state that previously analyzed the Panama Papers documents, said its team is ready to examine the Pandora Papers records. “If the Pandora Papers contain evidence of tax crimes, we will pursue them consistently,” the state’s finance minister, Michael Boddenberg, said.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden’s press secretary told reporters that the White House has read Pandora Papers reporting and that the President is committed to enhancing the U.S.’s fight against financial crime.

Also on Monday, India’s finance ministry announced it will investigate the Indian names exposed in the leak and take “appropriate action.” It also said that, as of last month, Indian authorities had identified $2.7 billion in undisclosed assets following ICIJ’s Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations.

The ministry said that “leaks appearing in the media under the name ‘PANDORA PAPERS’ will be monitored” by a multi-agency task force that includes the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit, which monitors financial crime.

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