The Pandora Papers leak is the latest – and biggest – to shine a light on tax evasion of the rich and powerful from the whistleblowing International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Here is a recap of how the global network of investigative journalists has made the offshore industry's money laundering and tax dodging a political hot potato.
In April 2013, the ICIJ reveals a "who's who" of people and entities hiding assets offshore in 122,000 companies run from Singapore and the British Virgin Islands. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev is named as one of the big beneficiaries.
In January 2014, the group scores a new coup with documents showing that China's elite is also parking money in offshore tax havens. Among those cited are several people close to President Xi Jinping.
Later that year, the ICIJ reveals secret agreements between Luxembourg and 340 multinational companies including Amazon, Apple, IKEA, Pepsi, AIG and Verizon to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes. The accords were reached when the then-president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was prime minister of the tiny tax haven.
In February 2015, the ICIJ uncovers a scheme that allegedly helped wealthy clients of banking giant HSBC's Swiss division to evade taxes on accounts worth billions. Among those named are Morocco's King Mohammed VI, Jordan's King Abdullah II and a cousin of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
The leak of 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca in April 2016 causes political earthquakes across the world and names stars, billionaires and banks involved in tax evasion and money-laundering. Iceland's prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigns and the fall-out also claims Pakistan's prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The ICIJ says at least 150 probes were launched in more than 70 countries because of the revelations, which also inspire a Hollywood film: Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat.
Another huge leak in November 2017 exposes the offshore interests of 120 politicians around the world, as well as the Queen Elizabeth II of England. It also reveals the financial links between then-US president Donald Trump's commerce secretary Wilbur L. Ross and Russian President Vladimir Putin's son-in-law. Apple, Nike and Uber are also accused of avoiding taxes through "imaginative bookkeeping."
Based on a 2019 leak of 200,000 files, reporters claim to expose a "sophisticated system that diverts tax revenue from poor nations back to the coffers of Western corporations and African oligarchs" through the Indian Ocean island.
The business empire of "Africa's wealthiest woman," Isabel dos Santos, daughter of former Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, has been largely dismantled since a 2020 ICIJ investigation into the shady origins of her fortune. Angola claims more than a billion dollars of state assets were plundered from the poverty-stricken but oil-rich nation. In July, she was ordered to surrender a stake in the Portuguese energy company Galp worth an estimated US$500 million.
With governments across the world needing trillions in tax revenue to bankroll pandemic spending, the ICIJ leak of 11.9 million documents reveals how more than a dozen heads of state and government have used offshore tax havens to hide assets.