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The hidden wealth of some of the world’s most prominent leaders, politicians and celebrities – including three former Tory MPs and six peers – has been revealed in a massive leak.
Millions of documents leaked to a number of media organisations across Europe apparently show the ways the rich and famous can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes.
It is reported that journalists from more than 80 countries have been reviewing 11.5 million files leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm.
Among the revelations is a network of secret deals and loans worth £2bn which apparently leads to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to The Guardian, one of the media organisations receiving the leaked documents – the so-called ‘Panama Papers’ – reveal:
:: Six members of the House of Lords, three former Conservative MPs and dozens of donors to UK political parties have had offshore assets.
:: A key member of FIFA’s powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be spearheading reform at world football’s scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and corruption.
:: Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.
:: Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
:: The families of at least eight current and former members of China’s supreme ruling body, the politburo, have been found to have hidden wealth offshore.
:: Twenty-three individuals who have had sanctions imposed on them for supporting the regimes in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, Iran and Syria have been clients of Panama-based Mossack Fonseca. Their companies were harboured by the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other jurisdictions.
One leaked memo from a partner of Mossack Fonseca said: “Ninety-five per cent of our work coincidentally consists in selling vehicles to avoid taxes.”
The company has denied any wrongdoing. It says it has acted beyond reproach for 40 years and that it has had robust due diligence procedures.
The document leak comes from the records of the firm, which was founded in 1977.
The information is near live, with the most recent records dating from December 2015.
Around 370 reporters from 100 media organisations have spent a year analysing and verifying the documents.
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David Cameron has promised to “sweep away” tax secrecy – but his political opponents claim little has been done.
He is planning a summit of world leaders next month, which will focus on the conduct of tax havens.
The Prime Minister set out his line in 2011 when he said: “We need to shine a spotlight on who owns what and where the money is really flowing.”
Oxfam’s head of UK policy, Richard Pyle, said: “This leak highlights the key role that UK-linked tax havens like the British Virgin Islands play in allowing a privileged elite to dodge paying their fair share of tax.
“People in the world’s poorest countries pay the highest price for the billions of lost tax money when their governments are unable to fund life-saving healthcare such as midwives and vaccinations for children.
“The UK is in a unique position to help clean up the murky world of tax havens – starting by ensuring that the real beneficiaries of shell companies registered in the UK’s Crown dependencies and overseas territories, such as the British Virgin Islands, are revealed ahead of May’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London.”
Campaign group Global Witness said: “This investigation shows how secretly-owned companies, many of them based in the UK’s tax havens, can act as getaway cars for terrorists, dictators, money launderers and tax evaders all over the world.
“The time has clearly come to take away the keys, by requiring the collection and publication of information on who really owns and controls these companies.
“This would make it much harder to launder dirty money and leave the rest of us safer as a result.”
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