Belfast Telegraph

Politicians and celebrities named in leaked files that lift the lid on tax avoidance

By Joe Churcher

Heads of state, politicians, celebrities and criminals have been named in a huge cache of leaked files exposing almost 40 years of intricate methods to make use of offshore assets.

Iceland's Prime Minister is among those facing calls to resign over the revelations, which implicate individuals in more than 200 countries and territories.

The leak has been dubbed the Panama Papers by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a non-profit group based in the US that published the material.

The group said an anonymous source provided internal documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world's biggest creators of shell companies.

It listed 12 current and former world leaders, 128 politicians and public officials, billionaires, celebrities, sports stars and politicians among those named in the cache of 11.5 million records.

The ICIJ said it would publish the full list of involved companies and individuals linked to them in early May, citing emails, financial spreadsheets and passports among its evidence.

But it has already named several people including the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the president of Ukraine, the king of Saudi Arabia and David Cameron's father. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or illegality. Friends of Vladimir Putin were also detailed, as well as Hollywood actor Jackie Chan and footballer Lionel Messi.

The data stretches over 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015, including 214,000 offshore entities.

Ramon Fonseca, a co-founder of Mossack Fonseca, said the documents were obtained illegally by hacking but confirmed that many of them were real, while denying his firm has engaged or assisted others in any wrongdoing.

Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said it received about 2.6 terabytes of data - more than would fit on 600 DVDs.

"To our knowledge, this is the biggest leak that journalists have ever worked on," journalist Bastian Obermayer added.

The shadowy financial dealings exposed in the leaks are not in themselves illegal but the ICIJ said the leaks show how "dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues".

"Most of the services the offshore industry provides are legal," the report added. "But the documents show that banks, law firms and other offshore players have often failed to follow requirements that they make sure their clients are not involved in criminal enterprises, tax dodging or corruption."

Offshore accounts and shell companies are among the methods used to conceal the ownership of assets.

Offshore bank accounts are located outside a client's country of resident, usually in "tax haven" territories chosen because of financial and legal advantages.

They can be used to squirrel money away from the oversight of national banking systems, evading regulatory oversight or tax obligations. Companies or individuals often use shell companies - set up as a vehicle for financial transactions and initially incorporated without significant assets or operations - to disguise ownership or other data about the funds involved.

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