What are the Paradise Papers?
The name refers to a leak of 13.4m files. Most of the documents - 6.8m - relate to a law firm and corporate services provider that operated together in 10 jurisdictions under the name Appleby. Last year, the "fiduciary" arm of the business was the subject of a management buyout and it is now called Estera.
There are also details from 19 corporate registries maintained by governments in secrecy jurisdictions - Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Labuan, Lebanon, Malta, the Marshall Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vanuatu.
The papers cover the period from 1950 to 2016.
The transfer of wealth
(Graphic available in article)
Money flows into the offshore world from everywhere. It's often very hard to identify the people and companies behind it. Among the documents in the leak is a database of Appleby customers from 1993 to 2014. It contains the names of more than 120,000 people and companies. Not all are connected to a company registered offshore. It has been an impossible task to check whether the customer is just a contact or if they have used Appleby services over many years. But it gives a good indication of where demand for Appleby's services originated. Many clients come from the UK, China and Hong-Kong, but the largest number, more than 30,000, are from the US.
(Graphic available in article)
Companies registered offshore can be used to hold assets such as property, aircraft, yachts and investments in stocks and shares. The Appleby data records about 25,000 offshore companies. The most popular jurisdictions for incorporations were the British-ruled tax havens of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. The British Virgin Islands, another UK overseas territory, and the Isle of Man, which is a British crown dependency, were also popular with Appleby clients.
How many media organisations have been looking at the data?
The Guardian is one of 96 media partners in the project. A total of 381 journalists from 67 countries have been analysing the material.
Who got the documents - and how?
The leaks were obtained by the German newspaper S?ddeutsche Zeitung, which also received the Panama Papers last year. S?ddeutsche Zeitung shared the material with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a US-based organisation that coordinated the global collaboration. S?ddeutsche Zeitung has not, and will not, discuss issues around sourcing.
Do the Paradise Papers focus on companies or individuals?
Both. They are united by one thing - money. Some of the world's biggest multinationals feature in the leak, including Apple, Nike and Facebook, as well as some of the richest people in the world, from the Queen to Bono, and from the stars of British sitcoms to the stars who grace Hollywood Boulevard.
What do the documents show?
The files show the offshore empire is bigger and more complicated than most people thought. And even companies such as Appleby, which prides itself on being a standard bearer in the field, have fallen foul of the regulators that try to police the industry.
The files set out the myriad ways in which companies and individuals can avoid tax using artificial structures. These schemes are legal if run correctly. But many appear not to be. And politicians around the world are beginning to ask whether they should be banned. Are they fair? Are they moral? A fundamental question posed by the Paradise Papers is: has tax avoidance in all its guises gone too far?
Key revelations include:
* Millions of pounds from the Queen's private estate has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund - and some of her money went to a retailer accused of exploiting poor families and vulnerable people.
* Extensive offshore dealings by Donald Trump's cabinet members, advisers and donors, including substantial payments from a firm co-owned by Vladimir Putin's son-in-law to the shipping group of the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross.
* Twitter and Facebook received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions.
* The tax-avoiding Cayman Islands trust managed by the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau's chief moneyman.
* Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton avoided taxes on ?17m jet using Isle of Man scheme.
* A previously unknown $450m offshore trust that has sheltered the wealth of Lord Ashcroft.
* Apple secretly moved parts of empire to Jersey after row over tax affairs.
* How sportswear giant Nike stays one step ahead of the taxman.
* The billions in tax refunds by the Isle of Man and Malta to the owners of private jets and luxury yachts.
* The secret loan and alliance used by the London-listed multinational Glencore in its efforts to secure lucrative mining rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
* The complex offshore webs used by two Russian billionaires to buy stakes in Arsenal and Everton football clubs.
* Stars of BBC hit sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys used web of offshore companies to avoid tax.
What does Appleby say?
The firm has denied any wrongdoing, either by itself or by any of its clients. But it has conceded that it is not infallible and has tried to learn from its mistakes. The company has agreed to take part in any formal inquiries that come out of the disclosures. Estera has declined to comment.
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Bernie Sanders has warned that the world is rapidly becoming an "international oligarchy" controlled by a tiny number of billionaires, highlighted by the revelations in the Paradise Papers.
In a statement to the Guardian in the wake of the massive leak of documents exposing the secrets of offshore investors, Sanders said that the enrichment of wealthy individuals and companies in tax havens was "the major issue of our time".
He said the Paradise Papers opened the door on a "major problem not just for the US but for governments throughout the world".
"The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy. The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes," the US senator from Vermont said.
Sanders, who came in a close second to Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, pointed the finger of blame for the flourishing of offshore holdings on both Congress and the Trump administration. He told the Guardian that Republicans in Congress were responsible for providing "even more tax breaks to profitable corporations like Apple and Nike".
The same tax breaks, he said, were being seized upon by super-wealthy members of Trump's cabinet "who avoid billions in US taxes by shifting American jobs and profits to offshore tax havens. We need to close these loopholes and demand a fair and progressive tax system."
Sanders' intervention in the debate sparked by the Paradise Papers marks the most prominent political response to the leak in their opening 24 hours. The investigation stems from the leak of some 13m files obtained by S?ddeutsche Zeitung in Germany and shared with almost 100 news organisations around the world including the Guardian by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
One of the most pointed disclosures in the Paradise Papers was that Wilbur Ross, Trump's commerce secretary, has continued to do business with the son-in-law of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as well as a member of Putin's inner circle who is under US sanctions. Ross, himself a billionaire, has retained since joining the Trump administration his investment in a shipping company, Navigator, that has a partnership with the Russian gas giant Sibur.
In turn Sibur is part-owned by Kirill Shamalov, the husband of Putin's daughter.
The emergence of Ross's ongoing ties to business interests so close to the Russian president at a time of intense scrutiny of the relationship between the Trump administration and the Kremlin has incensed prominent Democrats involved in Ross's confirmation to office. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who sits on the US Senate commerce committee, accused Ross of deceiving the public as well as lawmakers who had allowed the confirmation to go through having heard Ross promise to divest himself of any interests that carried potential conflict.
"If he fails to present a clear and compelling explanation, he ought to resign," Blumenthal told MSNBC in an interview.
Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said: "In February, I opposed Mr. Ross' nomination because there were a number of unanswered questions about his ownership stake in the Bank of Cyprus and his connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as his refusal to divest from a $1 billion co-investment made with the state-owned Chinese Investment Corporation.
"Despite assurances from the Commerce Department and the White House on the eve of his nomination, these questions remain unanswered over eight months later. These unanswered questions and recent revelations certainly warrant a Commerce Committee hearing and I think an Inspector General investigation is in order. We should get to the bottom of this."
On Monday, Ross denied that he had done anything wrong in his handling of his investment in Navigator. In the course of a visit to London, he told UK media that "there is nothing wrong with it. The fact that it happens to be called a Russian company doesn't mean there is any evil in it."
Further responses to the Paradise Papers came from the Democratic leader in the US Senate Chuck Schumer, and the ranking Democratic member of the Senate finance committee, Ron Wyden. In a joint statement they accused Republicans in Congress leading the push towards a reform of the tax code of failing to close egregious loopholes revealed by the leaks.
As a result Republicans were rewarding, the duo said, "wealthy billionaires like secretary Wilbur Ross for dodging taxes, while punishing many in the middle class with new tax hikes. If you deduct medical expenses or student loan interest from your taxable income, the Republican plan comes after your wallet. But if you stash your billions in secret bank accounts overseas, their plan gives you the green light to keep doing what you've been doing."
They added that the Paradise Papers were "proof positive that the Republican tax plan favours the wealthy and betrays the middle class in this country, who are the ones left carrying the financial burden of massive corporate tax avoidance".
I may be one of the tiniest minority that cares about this on here, but thought it would be worth sharing anyhow, especially as the last leak was so effortlessly sweeped under the rug and forgotten about.