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World leaders tackle tax havens with ICIJ help

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) can take partial credit for the results of this week’s G-8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland. Leaders of the world’s major economies agreed to new measures to tackle the lack of transparency associated with offshore tax havens.

These measures include sharing access to information on their residents’ tax affairs and forcing shell companies — often used to exploit investment loopholes — to identify their real or beneficial owners.

Just the fact that tax havens were considered part of the G-8 agenda can be traced to the work of ICIJ. Since early April, ICIJ has published more than 50 investigative reports on the issue of tax havens worldwide, based on 2.5 million leaked files. 

Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze has been one of the largest journalistic collaborations ever, now with 112 journalists in 58 countries. This investigative work – dubbed Offshore Leaks, has received more than 19,000 worldwide media citations — a new record for the Center for Public Integrity.

And, on Saturday, ICIJ published the Offshore Leaks Database which partially opens for the first time the company registries of 10 offshore jurisdictions. This unique, publicly searchable database was produced with our partner La Nación newspaper in Costa Rica. It includes information on more than 100,000 offshore account owners, directors, companies and trusts. 

As I’ve noted before, the worldwide response and impact of this work has been extensive. 

The BBC has reported that these G-8 actions are designed to combat illegal evasion of taxes, as well as legal tax avoidance by large corporations that make use of loopholes and tax havens. Although critics who have campaigned against tax havens say the G-8 did not go far enough, British Chancellor George Osborne said during the summit that more progress had been made on reforming the global tax system in the past 24 hours than the "past 24 years".

EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta has been very clear about why progress is being made now. He has stated that the Offshore Leaks investigation by ICIJ and its partners had transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion. 

As he told EU Observer, "I personally think Offshore Leaks could be identified as the most significant trigger behind these developments ... It has created visibility of the issue and it has triggered political recognition of the amplitude of the problem."

Nice work ICIJ. And, there is much more work to come.

Until next week,

Bill