The Pandora Papers investigation is the world’s largest-ever journalistic collaboration, involving more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries.
The investigation is based on a leak of confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that provide professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in low- or no-tax jurisdictions. The entities enable owners to conceal their identities from the public and sometimes from regulators. Often, service the providers help them to open bank accounts in countries with light financial regulation.
For nearly two years, ICIJ organized and led an investigation that grew to encompass more than 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories. Reporters followed leads to a cliffside mansion in California, a sugar plantation in the Dominican Republic, a polluting factory in Italy, high-rise towers in Dubai and a Turkish hospital where workers alleged mistreatment.
The records include an unprecedented amount of information on so-called beneficial owners of entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, Panama, South Dakota and other secrecy jurisdictions. They also contain information on the shareholders, directors and officers. In addition to the rich, the famous and the infamous, those exposed by the leak include people who don’t represent a public interest and who don’t appear in our reporting, such as small business owners, doctors and other, usually affluent, individuals away from the public spotlight.
While some of the files date to the 1970s, most of those reviewed by ICIJ were created between 1996 and 2020. 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 documents span five decades, with most created between 1996 and 2020. They include information on more than 29,000 beneficial owners, the ultimate owners of offshore assets. That is more than twice the number of owners found five years ago in the Panama Papers investigation, which was based on a leak from a single law firm.
Poor nations are disproportionately harmed by the stashing of wealth in tax havens, which starves treasuries of funds to pay for roads, schools and hospitals. The Pandora Papers probe reveals that international leaders who could tackle offshore tax avoidance have themselves secretly moved money and assets beyond the reach of tax and law enforcement authorities as their citizens struggle.
Current and former leaders who have owned secret companies and trusts, as revealed by the Pandora Papers investigation, include King Abdullah II of Jordan, the prime ministers of Côte d’Ivoire and the Czech Republic, the presidents of Ecuador, Kenya and Gabon and the former presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay and Honduras.
The files also shed light on the financial dealings of Chavistas in Venezuela, fugitive cult leaders and their followers, kleptocrats and their families, neo-Nazis, a mineral water dealer convicted of soliciting the murders of a judge and a prosecutor, a fugitive millionaire pedophile and terrorism financiers.
Other players in the Pandora Papers’ global cast include a Bitcoinczar sentenced for money laundering in connection with the largest cyberheist in history. And offshore investments were linked to Bollywood actors, soccer stars, corrupt sports’ officials, a king’s lover, feuding princesses, movie directors and stars, supermodels, acclaimed designers and world-famous singers.
The Pandora Papers investigation also reveals how banks and law firms work closely with offshore service providers to design complex corporate structures. The files show that providers don’t always know their customers, despite their legal obligation to take care not to do business with people who engage in questionable dealings.
The investigation also reports on how U.S. trust providers have taken advantage of some states’ laws that promote secrecy and help wealthy overseas clients hide wealth to avoid taxes in their home countries.
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.
Pandora papers has exposed as many as 16 traders involved in various businesses in Nepal, claiming they are involved in offshore dealings in tax-haven countries around the world.
The reports of the project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) were made public across the world on Sunday. In Nepal, the Centre for Investigative Journalism Nepal (CIJ Nepal) and Kantipurworked together with the ICIJ for the Pandora Papers project to cover matters related to Nepal. The list of Nepali businessmen and relatives involved in such secret trades includes Binod Chaudhary, Sarika Devi Chaudhary, Nirvana Chaudhary, Varun Chaudhary, Rahul Chaudhary, Lok Manya Golchha, Chandra Kumar Golchha, Hitesh Golchha, Ajeya Raj Sumargi, Arjun Prasad Sharma, Radhe Shyam Saraf, Kishor Rana, Rajendra Shakya, Suhrid Raj Ghimire, Purushottam Paudyal and Sudhir Mittal.