A database of the ownership of offshore entities and the networks built around them published by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on Friday has listed 39 Malta-based companies complicit in a global network of offshore secret stashes belonging to tax- and investigation-shy politicians and celebrities.
From data released on Friday, it transpires that Malta was one of the 10 so-called offshore havens that the consortium investigated. Moreover, the data shows that total of 39 Malta-based companies have been labelled as “offshore entities” – companies, trusts or funds created in a low-tax, offshore jurisdiction – and two more have been listed as master clients – which are intermediaries or go-betweens that help a client set up offshore entities.
The ICIJ also listed addresses of the entities and, in some cases, the names of those running the companies. For the time being, this newspaper is only publishing the names of the offshore entities in question.
The ICIJ’s offshore leaks revelations have sent shockwaves through several governments around the world, and have also prompted the European Union into a renewed crackdown on tax evasion. It has sparked investigations, resignations and a renewed sense of urgency among world leaders that this is the time to rein in offshore abuses
The data the consortium has published so far forms part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked offshore files it analysed with 112 journalists in 58 countries.
Since April, stories based on the data – the largest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever obtained by a media organisation – have been published by more than 40 media organisations worldwide, including The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk , The Washington Post and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The information released so far has revealed the offshore dealings of politicians, oligarchs, rogue nations and even of religious leaders. While many of the arrangements are perfectly legal, extensive reporting by the ICIJ and others show that the anonymity granted by the offshore economy facilitates money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and other crimes.
Even when it’s legal, according to the ICIJ, transparency advocates argue that the use of an alternative, parallel economy undermines democracy because it benefits a few at the expense of the majority.
EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta said the ICIJ’s investigation has transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion.
He was recently quoted as saying, “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.” He said the need for tax transparency overrides the principle of data privacy.
During a visit to the White House in May, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a strong pitch for tackling what he called "the scourge of tax evasion", one of the central themes of next week’s G8 meeting, in Northern Ireland, of leaders of eight of the world’s wealthiest countries.
“We need to know who really owns a company, who profits from it, whether taxes are paid,” said Mr Cameron, who is under pressure from the international community to address the role of Britain’s crown dependencies and territories in the offshore economy.
Within days of ICIJ’s April release of dozens of stories based on the secret offshore files, French president Francois Hollande called for the “eradication” of tax havens. Europe’s largest economic powers – the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany – announced that they will start exchanging bank information.
The surprise was even bigger when tiny Luxembourg, long known as one of the world’s most secretive tax havens, said it would share information with tax authorities about European and US citizens with bank accounts in the country. Another “onshore” European tax haven, Austria, saw the country’s most powerful banker, Herbert Stepic, resign in May in the wake of an Offshore Leaks story that revealed he used companies in Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands to conduct property deals he did not report to his employer, Raiffeisen Bank International AG.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Cameron has summoned top ministers from the 10 crown dependencies and overseas territories that serve as tax havens to London this weekend to try to convince them to share tax information widely with governments around the world.
In a letter to the territories, Cameron told them that the time has come to “knock down the walls of company secrecy."
Key findings so far
Government officials and their families and associates in Azerbaijan, Russia, Canada, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Mongolia and other countries have embraced the use of covert companies and bank accounts.
The mega-rich use complex offshore structures to own mansions, yachts, art masterpieces and other assets, gaining tax advantages and anonymity not available to average people.
Many of the world’s top’s banks – including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank – have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways.
A well-paid industry of accountants, middlemen and other operatives has helped offshore patrons shroud their identities and business interests, providing shelter in many cases to money laundering or other misconduct.
Ponzi schemers and other large-scale fraudsters routinely use offshore havens to pull off their shell games and move their ill-gotten gains.
The full database can be searched at: http://offshoreleaks.icij.org