ICIJ tax havens investigation pushes countries to launch investigations

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It appears our international investigation of offshore tax havens may have prompted government tax authorities to go public with their own data digging operations in pursuit of international tax evasion. 

On Thursday, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, along with British and Australian tax authorities, jointly announced that the three nations “have each acquired a substantial amount of data revealing extensive use of such entities [tax havens] organized in a number of jurisdictions including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.”  These are roughly the same jurisdictions being investigated using a similar amount of leaked data by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the international arm of The Center for Public Integrity.

As the Guardian reported in a page one story on Friday, more than 100 of Britain's richest people have been caught hiding billions of pounds in secretive offshore havens, sparking an unprecedented global tax evasion investigation. George Osborne, the British chancellor, warned the alleged tax evaders, and a further 200 accountants and advisers accused of helping them cheat the taxman: "The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you." The IRS said in a statement, "Our cooperative work with the United Kingdom and Australia reflects a bigger goal of leaving no safe haven for people trying to illegally evade taxes.”

Drawing from a leaked trove of 2.5 million digital files, ICIJ led what may be the largest cross border journalism collaboration in history, publishing more than 30 reports in dozens of countries.  The ICIJ investigation into tax havens has become a major political issue in Europe, and the results of our investigation have been cited more than 9,000 times by media organizations worldwide.  

ICIJ’s investigation opens the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts and nearly 130,000 individuals and agents, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con artists, and the mega-rich in more than 170 countries. Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze is ICIJ’s largest investigative reporting project in its 15-year history.

Including the Guardian and the BBC in the U.K., ICIJ has worked with 86 investigative journalists from 46 countries and used data mining software and old fashioned shoe leather reporting to unveil the previously hidden but thriving world of fraud, tax dodging and political corruption.  To analyze the documents, ICIJ collaborated with journalists from Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and 31 other media partners around the world.

Since publishing our tax haven reports, various federal agencies and foreign governments, including the IRS, have asked The Center for Public Integrity to give them the ICIJ leaked data. In each case, based on our long-standing policy, we have declined to turn over such material.  “The ICIJ is not an arm of law enforcement and is not an agent of the government. We are an independent reporting organization, served by and serving our members, the global investigative journalism community and the public.”

According to the Guardian, U.K. tax authorities have had the offshore data for 3-4 years. It was leaked to authorities by a whistleblower in 2009. No reason was given for the delay in announcing their investigation of that data until now, only after ICIJ started publishing its own investigative reporting. 

We expect our international investigation to continue through the next year.

Until next week,

 

Bill