WASHINGTON, DC, April 3, 2016 – After a yearlong investigation into a massive leaked cache of 11.5 million financial records, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists today is exposing the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and revealing how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled $2 billion through banks and shadow companies. The investigation also reveals details of offshore financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials around the world.
The far-reaching investigation was carried out by the ICIJ, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and about 370 journalists from more than 70 countries.
ICIJ, a global network of investigative reporters who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories, is a project of the Center for Public Integrity. To read ICIJ’s reporting on its latest investigation, please visit its new dedicated website, PanamaPapers.icij.org
The records show how a global industry of law firms and banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars. The files expose offshore companies controlled by the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the king of Saudi Arabia, the president of Ukraine and the children of the president of Azerbaijan. They also include at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.
“This is the biggest cross-border investigation in journalism history, using a data set that is the largest of its kind,” said Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “Collaboration with media partners around the world allows us to expose a bunch of secrets – in depth. There is no way any individual reporter or media organization could have done this.”
"ICIJ has a powerful record in pulling back the veil on offshore financial networks that hide criminality and enable epic tax avoidance,” added Peter Bale, chief executive officer of the Center for Public Integrity. "CPI and ICIJ are non-partisan and non-profit journalism teams funded solely by philanthropy and individuals committed to unbiased investigative journalism."
The records reveal a pattern of covert maneuvers by banks, companies and people tied to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, with offshore companies linked to this network moving money in transactions as large as $200 million at a time. Putin associates disguised payments, backdated documents and gained hidden influence within the country’s media and automotive industries, the leaked files show.
Even before the investigation went public, Russian officials denounced it. This past week, the Kremlin accused ICIJ of mounting an “information attack” on President Putin. “With various unseemly tricks they are trying to discredit the leadership of our country,” Putin spokesperson Dimitry Peskov said.
Some other highlights of the investigation include:
- The documents feature world leaders who have embraced anti-corruption platforms. The files reveal offshore companies linked to the family of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, who has vowed to fight “the armies of corruption,” as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has positioned himself as a reformer in a country shaken by corruption scandals.
- In Iceland, the leaked files show how Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and his wife secretly owned an offshore firm that held millions of dollars in Icelandic bank bonds during that country’s financial crisis.
- The records also include 29 billionaires featured in Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s 500 richest people, plus actor Jackie Chan and soccer star Lionel Messi.
- The leaked documents reveal that the law firm of a member of FIFA’s ethics committee, Juan Pedro Damiani, had business relationships with three men who have been indicted in the FIFA soccer scandal.
- The files also contain new details of offshore dealings by the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, a leader in the push for tax haven reform.
It is not illegal to own an offshore company. And the media partnership’s investigation found no evidence that many of the people named in the “Panama Papers” used their offshore entities for wrongdoing. But the use of offshore entities by top political leaders as well as criminals raises questions about the impact of financial secrecy havens on national treasuries and the rule of law.
The leaked records come from a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama called Mossack Fonseca. The firm, with branches in London, Miami, Zurich and many more cities, is one of the world’s top creators of shell companies, or corporate structures that can be used to hide ownership of assets. The law firm’s leaked internal files contain information on more than 214,000 offshore companies connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories. In a written response, the firm said it “does not foster or promote illegal acts. Your allegations that we provide shareholders with structures supposedly designed to hide the identity of the real owners are completely unsupported and false.”
These latest disclosures dramatically expand on previous leaks of offshore records that ICIJ and its reporting partners have revealed in the past four years. ICIJ’s stories have triggered official inquiries, high-profile resignations and policy changes around the world.