HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
Pandora’s Box: ICIJ Unveils the Findings of Its Investigation into Offshore Assets of Hundreds of Politicians and Oligarchs

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJhas released the findings of the analysis of documents obtained through a major leak of information of “safe haven” service providers.

The so called Pandora Papers contain a record volume of information: roughly 11.9 million of documents of 2.94 terabytes that belonged to 14 offshore financial service providers.

Journalists obtained information in different formats: from spreadsheets and text documents to images, audio and video files and scanned hard copies, as each company had its own system of data storage; the documents were drafted in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Arabic, Korean and other languages. As a consequence, it was much harder to process the Pandora Papers*.

Most files cover the period from 1996 to 2020 and a wide range of issues, including:

  • Establishment of shell companies, foundations and trusts;
  • Use of such companies to acquire real estate, yachts and planes, invest and transfer money between bank accounts;
  • Estate planning and other inheritance matters;
  • Tax evasion through complex financial schemes.

In analysing the documents, journalists detected a great number of facts confirming that high-ranking officials and celebrities used over 90 countries and offshore territories to acquire property or hide their assets: the list comprises over 330 politicians, including 35 former and current heads of state, 130 Forbes billionaires, pop stars, famous athletes and supermodels. 

Additionally, they detected:

  • Different cooperation schemes between banks and legal firms to assist their clients in moving their assets to offshore; moreover, unlike in previous leak cases, the Pandora Papers investigation showed that not only small specialised companies, but also such large international legal firms as Morgan Stanley and Baker McKenzie were involved in offshore activities;
  • Numerous “revolving door” cases: for instance, over 220 lawyers from 35 countries associated with the large international company Baker McKenzie had previously held positions in public bodies, including the judiciary, tax authorities, the European Commission and executive offices of heads of state;
  • Facts that US trustees used the legislation of some states to assist their wealthy clients to conceal their property to avoid taxation.

In total, the Pandora Papers contain information about over 27,000 companies and 29,000 beneficial owners (the most numerous – 4,400 beneficial owners from 3,700 companies – turned out to be from Russia, including 46 Russian oligarchs; they are followed by beneficial owners from the United Kingdom, Argentina, China and Brazil, US citizens are in the top 20 as well).

As of now, the complete archive of data is accessible only to the ICIJ partner journalists. The information on offshore assets of some high-ranking officials, their relatives and associates is accessible through their profiles in a dedicated interactive section Power Players.

*For comparison: the FinCEN leak included only around 2,600 documents; in spite of the fact that the Panama Papers leak contained approximately the same number of documents (11.5 million) all of them belonged to one company (Mossack Fonseca), and, consequently, it was much easier for journalists to detect links between the persons mentioned in them; in the Paradise Papers leak journalists studied 13.4 million documents of total volume of 1.4 terabytes received from two companies and public corporate registries of a number of offshore territories that were also easier to process.

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