Secrecy for Sale

Published — December 23, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Highlights of Offshore Leaks so far


April 2013 marked the beginning of one of the biggest financial leaks in history.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has just released the first stories from a global collaborative project into the world of offshore money. The Tax Justice Network, an advocacy group claims that a third of the world’s wealth is tied up in the secret area of offshore.

For the past 15 months, journalists from over 40 countries have worked together to shed light on this issue.

And here’s some of what they found:

  • Two major French banks, BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole oversaw the creation of a large number of totally opaque offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and Singapore from the late 1990s until the end of the 2000s for clients in search of secrecy and lower tax rates.
  • Nicky Hager provides an in-depth look at the offshore service provider Portcullis TrustNet. Roughly 45,000 of about 77,000 of the client list come from China, Taiwan, Singapore and other East and Southeast Asian nations. The firm is used by many of the world’s major banks, such as UBS, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse subsidiary Clariden, and by the world’s biggest auditing firms, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and KPMG, to provide secrecy for their wealthy clients, and was implicated in New Zealand’s “winebox affair” scandal of the decade.
  • Gunter Sachs, the late millionaire playboy, businessman and former husband of Bridgette Bardot is revealed to have had an intricate offshore scheme to manage his vast fortune, a scheme that remained inscrutable to the fiscal authorities until the end.
  • Two Americans and one South African are revealed to have reaped $2.5 million dollars from the aborted sales of surplus military helicopters to President Lissouba during the civil war in the Republic of Congo.
  • François Hollande’s treasurer during the 2012 presidential campaign, businessman Jean-Jacques Augier, is revealed to have investments in the Cayman Islands.
  • Philippine government officials said Friday that they will look into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands. “We are duty bound to investigate and, depending upon informed preliminary findings, decide whether to pursue the matter,” said Andres Bautista, the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, tasked with recovering the Marcos family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
  • Germany’s largest financial institution, Deutsche Bank, helped its customers maintain more than 300 secretive offshore companies and trusts through its Singapore branch.
  • New light is shed on a half-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme in Venezuela that shuffled investor money among a maze of offshore companies, hedge funds and bank accounts stretching from the Cayman Islands to Switzerland and Panama, smoothing the way by funneling bribes to officials in Venezuela.
  • Commonwealth Trust Limited, a BVI-based firm, is revealed to have set up companies involved in the Magnitsky affair, a case that’s strained U.S.-Russian relations and blocked American adoptions of Russian orphans
  • One of Mongolia’s most senior politicians says he is considering resigning from office after being confronted with evidence that he has an offshore company and a secret Swiss bank account.
  • Newly uncovered documents link Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest child of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and now a senior political figure in her own right, to two secretive offshore trusts and an offshore company.
  • A prominent Canadian lawyer, husband to a Liberal senator, moved CA$1.7 million (US$1.1 million) to secretive financial havens while he was locked in battle with the Canada Revenue Agency over his taxes, according to documents in a massive leak of offshore financial data.
  • A corporate mogul whose business empire has won building contracts worth billions of dollars amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction spree is tied to the president’s family through secretive offshore companies.
  • The prominent Thais listed in secret documents as owners of offshore holdings includes the former wife of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a sitting senator, a former high-ranking defense ministry official, Forbes-listed tycoons, and a former government minister whose assets in the United States are frozen because of her alleged links to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
  • Greek citizens who own or direct offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens rarely declare them to Greek tax officials, a review of more than 100 companies shows. Just four out of 107 offshore companies investigated by ICIJ are registered with tax authorities as the law usually requires, particularly when the firms hold assets or conduct business in Greece. Officials apparently have no record of the other 103 firms — or whether the owners declared any assets held by these entities or paid taxes on them.
  • A list containing examples of some of the most high-profile names uncovered in this investigation, along with records of their offshore companies. Those named come in the form of politicians, businessmen, army generals, tycoons, relatives of dictators, and are scattered across 29 different countries.
  • Finally, for those interested in how ICIJ managed to tackle records cache, the data manager of the project, Duncan Campbell, writes an in-depth explanation of how our journalists were able make sense of the 260 gigabytes of information obtained. Four large databases, half a million text, PDF, spreadsheet, image and web files were dissected to reveal over 130,000 records on the people and agents who run, own, benefit from or hide behind offshore companies.
  • How one Zurich-based law firm, Lenz & Staehlin, has aided some of Europe’s richest families park their wealth offshore. “People don’t set up this kind of structure out of altruism, but to gain a profit,” says Christian Wanner, one of Switzerland’s leading authorities on tax collection.

We hope you enjoy these stories; there will be more to follow daily for the next couple of weeks.

If you have story tips, documents or other information about this issue, contact us at

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