An enormous cache of secret financial records obtained by a team of international journalists shows that some of the world's wealthiest people have stashed vast amounts of money and other assets in off-shore tax havens to hide their riches.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said Thursday that over a 15-month period, it examined 2.5 million leaked files, with most of them from the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and Singapore. The Washington-based group, working with journalists from throughout the world, concluded that 130,000 individuals and their associates had created 120,000 offshore companies and trusts to benefit some of the wealthiest people in 170 countries.
The group said that government officials, their families and associates in Russia, Canada, Pakistan, the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Mongolia, the United States and elsewhere used covert companies and bank accounts to keep their wealth hidden. It said they gained "tax advantages and anonymity not available to average people."
The consortium said such well-known banks as Clariden, UBS and Deutsche Bank "aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways."
It said offshore financial secrecy has spread rapidly, "fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike." The group cited the current banking crisis in the tiny Mediterranean tax haven of Cyprus as an example of how offshore money can imperil a country's financial stability. Last week, international lenders handed the island nation a $13-billion bailout to keep it from going bankrupt.
The group identified numerous wealthy offshore account holders. Among them were Jean-Jacques Augier, a campaign treasurer last year for French President Francois Hollande; Olga Shuvalova, wife of Russia's deputy prime minister, and Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Others named in the report included the late German playboy and photographer Gunter Sachs, who committed suicide two years ago; Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family, and Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country's richest man.