The hidden wealth of some of the world’s most prominent leaders, politicians and celebrities has been revealed by an unprecedented leak of millions of documents that show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes.
The Guardian, working with global partners, will set out details from the first tranche of what are being called “the Panama Papers”. Journalists from more than 80 countries have been reviewing 11.5m files leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm.
The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with the Guardian and the BBC.
Though there is nothing unlawful about using offshore companies, the files raise fundamental questions about the ethics of such tax havens – and the revelations are likely to provoke urgent calls for reforms of a system that critics say is arcane and open to abuse.
The Panama Papers reveal:
- Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.
- A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend – a cellist called Sergei Roldugin – is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married.
- Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
- In the UK, six members of the House of Lords, three former Conservative MPs and dozens of donors to British political parties have had offshore assets.
- The families of at least eight current and former members of China’s supreme ruling body, the politburo, have been found to have hidden wealth offshore.
- Twenty-three individuals who have had sanctions imposed on them for supporting the regimes in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, Iran and Syria have been clients of Mossack Fonseca. Their companies were harboured by the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other jurisdictions.
- A key member of Fifa’s powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be spearheading reform at world football’s scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and corruption.
- One leaked memorandum from a partner of Mossack Fonseca said: “Ninety-five per cent of our work coincidentally consists in selling vehicles to avoid taxes.”
The company has flatly denied any wrongdoing. It says it has acted beyond reproach for 40 years and that it has had robust due diligence procedures.
The document leak comes from the records of the firm, which was founded in 1977. The information is near live, with the most recent records dating from December 2015.
Three hundred and 70 reporters from 100 media organisations have spent a year analysing and verifying the documents.
The British prime minister, David Cameron, has promised to “sweep away” tax secrecy – but little has been done. He is planning a summit of world leaders next month, which will focus on the conduct of tax havens.
The prime minister set out his line in 2011 when he said: “We need to shine a spotlight on who owns what and where the money is really flowing.”