The Pandora Papers investigation is quite possibly the largest of its kind. It consists of nearly 12 million leaked records that contain private financial information — in some cases, criminal — about hundreds of the richest and most powerful people in the world. The documents originated from 14 sources and were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington, DC. The Consortium has been working with over 140 media organizations and 600 journalists in 117 countries to go through the documents.
What Private Information Has Been Exposed?
The Pandora Papers include millions of documents, images, emails, and spreadsheets that detail the financial activities of wealthy families, politicians, royalty, celebrities, business magnates, and others from around the world. The focus of these documents is how these people have used offshore accounts to shield assets worth millions and billions of dollars. In some cases, the Pandora Papers expose illegal financial activity, like corruption and money laundering. In most cases, the documents reveal how people used tax havens and shell companies to avoid paying taxes in ways that are technically legal.
In an interview with NPR, ICIJ reporter Spencer Woodman explained, “It is not illegal to have tax havens, but they do attract a great deal of illegal activity. They also attract a lot of activity that is perfectly legal by the letter of the law. And that is kind of what is at the heart of this investigation – is to show readers just how far politicians, powerful people, billionaires can go in terms of evading taxes and evading scrutiny, even when they’re sticking strictly to the law.”
Additionally, the investigation shows how many of these people are involved in actually creating tax policies of these countries — and because they are avoiding millions in taxes, they have no incentive to change the laws. In fact, they have every incentive to leave them as they are.
Oxfam International, a British consortium of charities, wrote in a statement, “This is where our missing hospitals are. This is where the pay-packets sit for all the extra teachers and firefighters and public servants we need. Whenever a politician or business leader claims there is ‘no money’ to pay for climate damage and innovation, for more and better jobs, for a fair post-COVID recovery, for more overseas aid, they know where to look.”
Who Has Been Named?
Here are some who have been named in the Pandora Papers:
● The Qatari ruling family, which bought a London “super-mansion” via offshore companies and thus avoided paying about $25m in taxes
● King Abdullah II of Jordan, who set up over 35 shell companies and bought over $100m worth of property in the US and UK
● The family of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, which has secretly owned a network of offshore companies for decades
● Former Prime Minister of England Tony Blair, who purchased a company in the British Virgin Islands that owned an $8.8 million Victorian building in London. By purchasing the company and not the building itself, Blair avoided $400,000 in property taxes
● Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who used an offshore investment company to buy two French villas for $22m, which he did not include in his asset declarations
The Fallout from the Pandora Papers
People named in the Pandora Papers have been scrambling to defend themselves, deny allegations, or downplay the situation. Several governments have called for investigations into politicians and local billionaires. The long-term fallout, however, such as cracking down on tax havens and tax evasion, has yet to be seen.
The Pandora Papers investigation is the second time a leak of this kind has come to light. The first was the Panama Papers in 2016, which exposed more than 200,000 tax havens. The Panama Papers, however, were much smaller in scale than the Pandora Papers. Given the scope and wide range of famous people named in the latter, perhaps there is a better chance of seeing real reforms.
If the Pandora Papers will indeed act as a spur toward stricter tax laws around the world, specifically regarding offshore havens and punishments for evasion, then they will indeed accomplish a lot.