Financial Secrets and Lies

LONDON – In early April, a major exposé of financial secrecy sent shock waves around the world. After devoting more than a year to examining 2.5 million leaked files, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), in partnership with several global news outlets, revealed the names behind more than 120,000 anonymous offshore companies and trusts.

Among the luminaries hiding their identities behind shell companies registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Cook Islands, and other offshore jurisdictions were Georgia’s billionaire prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili; the late Gunter Sachs, a well-known German billionaire and one of Brigitte Bardot’s former husbands; Jean-Jacques Augier, the treasurer of French President François Hollande’s election campaign; and Imee Marcos, a Filipino politician and daughter of the country’s former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. A Venezuelan general, international arms dealers, and several Russian corporate executives also made the list.

The ICIJ investigation – which details cash transfers, incorporation dates, and links between companies and well-known individuals – demonstrates the massive scale of the offshore industry. It not only highlights the prevalence of financial secrecy worldwide, but also shows how hidden company ownership facilitates tax evasion, money laundering, corruption, and other crime.

Over many years spent investigating these issues, Global Witness has discovered that the ability to hide money offshore depends on two factors: banks that accept dirty money, and companies that help the wealthy, well-connected, and corrupt to conceal their identities. The ICIJ report proves definitively that neither is difficult to find.