Published:  05:27 AM, 09 October 2021

Pandoras Box Opens With a Bang!

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)has published 11.9 million leaked documents beginning on 3 October 2021 comprising 2.9 terabytes of data. These documents are known as Pandora Papers. The news organisations of the ICIJ described the document leak as their most expansive expose of financial secrecy yet, containing documents, images, emails and spreadsheets from 14 financial service companies in nations including Panama, Switzerland and the UAE, surpassing their previous release of thePanama Papers in 2016, which had 11.5 million confidential documents.

ICIJ is an independent, Washington, D.C. based international network of more than 200 investigative journalists and 100 media organizations in over 70 countries. Launched in 1997 by the Center for Public Integrity, ICIJ was spun off in February 2017 into a fully independent organization working on issues such as cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power. The ICIJ has exposedsmuggling and tax evasion by multinational tobacco companiesby organized crime syndicates; investigated private military cartels, asbestos companies, and climate change lobbyists and broke new ground by publicizing details of Iraq and Afghanistan war contracts.

In 1997, the Center for Public Integrity began assembling the world's first working network of premier investigative reporters. By 2000 the ICIJ consisted of 75 world-class investigative reporters in 39 countries.?In early November 2014, the ICIJ's Luxembourg Leaks investigation revealed that Luxembourg under Jean-Claude Juncker's premiership had turned into a major European centre of corporate tax avoidance. In February 2015, the ICIJ website released information about bank accounts in Switzerland under the title Swiss Leaks: Murky Cash Sheltered by Bank Secrecy, which published information on 100,000 clients and their accounts at HSBC.

ICIJ is now governed by three committees: a traditional board of directors with a fiduciary role; an Advisory Committee made of supporters and an ICIJ Network Committee. ICIJ was granted nonprofit status from US tax authorities in July the same year. In 2017, the ICIJ, the McClatchy Company, and the Miami Herald won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for the Panama Papers, a series of stories using a collaboration of more than 300 reporters on six continents to expose the hidden infrastructure and global scale of offshore tax havens. In total, the ICIJ won more than 20 awards for the Panama Papers.

At the time of the release of the Pandora Papers, the ICIJ said it is not identifying its source for the documents. An estimated 32 trillion US dollarsexcluding non-monetary valuables such as real estate, art, and jewelry may be hidden from being taxed, according to news reports. In total, 35 current and former national leaders appear in the leak, alongside 400 officials from nearly 100 countries. Among those names are former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Montenegrin President Milo Dukanovic, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim, Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba and Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso.

More than 100 billionaires, 29,000 offshore accounts, 30 current and former leaders, and 336 politicians were named in the first leaks on 3 October 2021. King Abdullah II of Jordan is one of the main figures named in the papers, with documents showing he had invested over 100 million US dollars in property across the UK and the US. They included houses in Cliffside Drive, Malibu, Washington, D.C., London and Ascot in the UK. A UK company controlled by Cherie Blair was shown to have acquired a 6.45 million pounds property in London by purchasing Romanstone International Limited, a British Virgin Islands company; had the property been acquired directly, 312,000 pounds would have been payable in stamp duty.

Tony Blair's name appears in a statement of joint income for the associated mortgage. The papers also reveal how an office block owned by the Aliyev family was sold to the Crown Estatefor 66 million pound in 2018 netting the Aliyevs a 31 million pound profit. Another office block worth 33 million pound was sold to the family in 2009 and was gifted to Heyder Aliyev, son of Azerbaijan's President Aliyev.

Elsewhere, a close associate of Vladimir Putin was revealed to have secret assets in Monaco and Andrej Babis, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, who had campaigned on promising to crack down on corruption and tax evasion, did not declare the use of an offshore investment company in the purchase of eight properties, including two villas, in Mougins on the French Riviera for 12 million pounds. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was also mentioned, despite being quoted in 2018 as stating, "Every public servant's assets must be declared publicly so that people can question and ask - what is legitimate?" Kenyatta and six members of his family have been linked to 13 offshore companies.

Other global names mentioned include Shakira, who was incorporating new offshore entities while going on trial for tax evasion; model Claudia Schiffer; Indian cricket player Sachin Tendulkar; Alexandre Cazes, the founder of thedark web site AlphaBay, used to deal in illegal drugs; Pakistan's finance minister, Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, and several of family members of Pakistan's top generals; and the CEO of Channel One Russia, Konstantin Ernst. Miguel Bose, Pep Guardiola and Julio Iglesias are also named.

The leaked files come from 14 offshore service providers that help clients establish companies in secrecy jurisdictions. An ICIJ report focused on the Panamanian law firm of Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, or Alcogal, saying it was the law firm of the Latin American elite that created at least 14,000 shell companies and trusts in tax havens. Alcogal was mentioned more than any other offshore provider in the leaked documents.

The ICIJ worked with journalists in 117 countries including news organizations such as The Washington Post, L'Espresso, Le Monde, El Pais, Suddeutsche Zeitung, PBS program Frontline, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Guardian, and the BBC's Panorama. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that all citizens mentioned in the Pandora Papers would be investigated and appropriate action taken in case of wrongdoing.

From 2008 to 2011, the ICIJ investigated the global tobacco industry, revealing how Philip Morris International and other tobacco companies worked to grow businesses in Russia, Mexico, Uruguay and Indonesia. The ICIJ partnered with The Guardian, BBC, Le Monde, the Washington Post, SonntagsZeitung, The Indian Express, Suddeutsche Zeitung andNDR to produce an investigative series on offshore banking. They reported on government corruption across the globe, tax avoidance schemes used by wealthy people and the use of secret offshore accounts in Ponzi Schemes.

In June 2011, an ICIJ article revealed how an Australian businessman had helped his clients legally incorporate thousands of offshore shell entitles some of which later became involved in the international movement of oil, guns and money.In April 2013, a report disclosing details of 130,000 offshore accounts some of which conducted international tax fraud.In early 2014, the ICIJ revealed that relatives of China's political and financial elite were among those using offshore tax havens to conceal wealth. In July 2019, the Mauritius Leaks showed howMauritius was being used as one such tax haven.

In January 2020, Luanda Leaks revealed how Angola's richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, used a network of Western advisors to amass a fortune. The investigation exposed two decades of corrupt deals that made dos Santos Africa's wealthiest woman and left oil and diamond-rich Angola one of the world's poorest countries. The investigation showed how dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo built their empire taking advantage of many secrecy jurisdictions.

Md Arafat Rahman is a Columnist and Assistant Officer, Career & Professional Development Services Department (CPDS), Southeast University

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