The data dubbed “Offshore Leaks” was handed over to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), of which German daily paper the Süddeutsche Zeitung as well as broadcaster NDR, are members, along with the Swiss paper Sonntagszeitung, The Washington Post and The Guardian.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung said members of the consortium had spent months independently verifying the material that it said gave new insights into the workings of the tax-evasion industry working in ten tax havens.
“I have never seen anything like it. The secret world has been made public,” Canadian law professor and tax expert Arthur Cockfield told the paper.
The data was given to the journalists’ consortium more than a year ago, since then the media from 46 countries have been working to verify and interpret the information.
Those involved in hiding money – often with the explicit aid of financial institutions – include the oldest daughter of the former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who had trusts on the British Virgin Islands. The Philippine government now intends to investigate whether part of the fortune that Marcos left the country with when he was ousted, might still be there.
Sachs, who killed himself in 2011, stashed a fortune in tax havens, which was not fully declared with the finance authorities – something those managing his estate deny.
But the Süddeutsche Zeitung said it had dozens of documents which enabled its reporters to reconstruct the complicated structure of his offshore trusts and businesses based in places like the Cook Islands in the Pacific.
The ICIJ said government officials and their families and associates in Azerbaijan, Russia, Canada, Pakistan, Thailand, Mongolia and other countries had “embraced the use of covert companies and bank accounts.”
“The mega-rich use complex offshore structures to own mansions, yachts, art masterpieces and other assets, gaining tax advantages and anonymity not available to average people,” the consortium said on its site.
“Many of the world’s top banks – including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways,” it added.
A study by British non-governmental organisation Tax Justice Network last year suggested that up to $31 trillion was hidden from tax authorities in tax havens across the world – depriving governments of up to $280 billion in revenues.