Paradise Papers: ICIJ releases another database revealing offshore companies

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday released a database of around 13.4 million documents revealing over 25,000 companies owned by the world’s rich and influential individuals.

According to Media News, the ICIJ coordinated the Panama Papers investigation into offshore companies.

The latest files have disclosed the financial details of politicians, corporations, and celebrities among others.

The Paradise Papers comprise a major part of documents leaked from the company ‘Appleby’.

The documents — obtained by a German newspaper from two companies in Singapore and Bermuda — have made public the data of over 25,000 companies owned by individuals from 180 countries, from 1950 to 2016.

Around 381 investigative journalists from 67 countries, including senior The News reporter and ICIJ member Umar Cheema worked extensively to bring these facts before the people.

Jang Group was the only Pakistani media house that partners with the ICIJ.

Pakistanis named in Paradise Papers

Shaukat Aziz

Former prime minister Shaukat Aziz was found linked with Antarctic Trust.

Aziz had set up the Antarctic Trust whose beneficiaries included the ex-PM’s wife, his children and granddaughter.

He had set up the trust in Delaware (USA) before becoming finance minister.

Interestingly, the trust was neither declared during his stint as finance minister nor as prime minister.

Speaking through his attorney in New York, Shaukat Aziz said that he didn’t have to declare the trust in Pakistan as he was a settlor.

When asked if his wife or children declared the trust, he responded that they didn’t have to declare because they were beneficiaries, not the beneficial owners.

Aziz served as prime minister from August 28, 2004, to November 15, 2007 and was appointed as finance minister in 1999.

Aziz settled abroad after his tenure came to an end in 2007.

Ayaz Khan Niazi

Moreover, former National Insurance Corporation Limited chairperson Ayaz Khan Niazi has also been identified in the records in connection with four offshore holdings in British Virgin Islands.

One of them was a trust, Andalusian Discretionary Trust, while the other three were set up as companies: Andalusian Establishment Limited, Andalusian Enterprises Limited and Andalusian Holdings Limited.

All the three companies were set up in 2010 when Niazi was the chairperson of National Insurance Corporation Limited.

In the record, however, Niazi’s two brothers, Hussain Khan Niazi and Muhammad Ali Khan Niazi, were shown as the beneficial owners, whereas Ayaz along with his father Abdul Razaq Khan and mother Fauzia Razzaq acted as directors.

World Leaders 

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II has invested millions of dollars in medical and consumer loan companies, Appleby’s files show. While the Queen’s personal estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, provides some details of its investments in UK property, such as commercial buildings scattered across southern England, it has never disclosed details of its offshore investments.

The records show that as of 2007, the queen’s personal estate invested in a Cayman Islands fund that in turn invested in a private equity company that controlled BrightHouse, a UK rent-to-own firm criticised by consumer watchdogs and members of Parliament for selling household goods to cash-strapped Britons on payment plans with interest rates as high as 99.9 percent.

Rex Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was a director of Marib Upstream Services Co., a Bermuda-based company created to conduct oil and gas operations in Yemen’s Marib-Al-Jawf basin.

Tillerson joined the company’s board in March 1997, when he was the president of Exxon Yemen, and resigned in March 1998, according to Appleby’s client database.

Marib Upstream Services was a joint venture of three companies: the Yemen Gas Company, the Yemen Exploration & Production Company and the Yemen LNG Company.

The Yemen Gas Company was state-owned, Yemen Exploration & Production Company was owned by Exxon Mobil and Hunt Oil, and the Yemen LNG Company had several shareholders, the largest of which is the French oil company Total.

Marib Upstream Services operated in accordance with a production-sharing agreement between Yemen and the oil companies until 2005, when Yemen ended the production-sharing agreement and turned over production rights to a state-owned company.

Tillerson did not respond to a request for comment from ICIJ and its media partner The New York Times.

Queen Noor of Jordan

Other royals and politicians with newly disclosed offshore ties include Queen Noor of Jordan, who was listed as the beneficiary of two trusts on the island of Jersey, including one that held her sprawling British estate.

Wesley Clark, a one-time Democratic presidential hopeful and a retired four-star US Army general who served as NATO’s supreme commander in Europe , was a director of an online gambling company with offshore subsidiaries, the files show.

In addition to disclosures about politicians and corporations, the files reveal details about the financial lives of the rich and famous – and the completely unknown. They include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s yacht and submarines, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Cayman Island investment vehicle.

Singers Madonna and Bono

The Paradise Papers also reveal Madonna’s shares in a medical supplies company. Pop singer and social justice activist Bono – listed under his full name, Paul Hewson – owned shares in a company registered in Malta that invested in shopping center in Lithuania, company records show.

Stephen Bronfman

The files reveal that Stephen Bronfman, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s adviser and close friend, teamed up with Leo Kolber, another Liberal Party stalwart and former member of Canada’s Senate, and Kolber’s son to quietly move millions of dollars to a Cayman trust.

The offshore maneuvers may have avoided taxes in Canada, the United States and Israel, according to experts who reviewed some of the 3,000-plus files detailing the trust’s activities.

As the offshore riches grew, lawyers for Bronfman, the Kolbers and other wealthy interests lobbied Canada’s Parliament to fight legislative proposals to tax income from offshore trusts.

Bronfman remains a key fundraiser for Trudeau, who has championed openness in government and promised a crackdown on offshore tax dodging.

In September, Trudeau told the UN General Assembly: “Right now, we have a system that encourages wealthy Canadians to use private corporations to pay a lower tax rate than middle-class Canadians. That’s not fair and we’re going to fix it.”

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross

The Appleby files show how Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, has used a chain of Cayman Islands entities to maintain a financial stake in Navigator Holdings, a shipping company whose top clients include the Kremlin-linked energy firm Sibur.

Among Sibur’s key owners are Kirill Shamalov, Russian President Putin’s son-in-law, and Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire the US government sanctioned in 2014 because of his links to Putin. Sibur is a major customer of Navigator, paying the company more than $23 million in 2016.

When he joined Trump’s cabinet, Ross divested his interests in 80 companies. But he kept stakes in nine companies, including the four that connect him to Navigator and its Russian clients.

These revelations come against a backdrop of growing concerns about hidden Russian involvement in US political affairs.

Tech mogul Yuri Milner

In 2011, the investment fund of tech mogul Yuri Milner acted as an intermediary when one of the Russian government firms, VTB Bank, quietly invested $191 million in Twitter Inc.

Documents also show that a financial subsidiary of the Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom funded a shell company that, through its ownership of a Milner-affiliated company, held roughly $1 billion in Facebook shares shortly before the social network’s 2012 initial public offering.

More recently, Milner invested $850,000 in Cadre, a real estate firm co-founded by Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner.

Milner is a Russian citizen who lives in Silicon Valley. His ties to Twitter, Facebook and Kushner’s firm have been previously disclosed. But his links to the Kremlin financial institutions weren’t previously known.

What is Paradise Papers?

The Paradise Papers is a database comprising around 13.4 million documents, which reveals over 25000 companies owned by the world’s rich and influential individuals.

The documents were obtained from two companies in Singapore and Bermuda by a German newspaper and shared with the ICIJ. A major part of the Panama Papers comprises leaked files from company ‘Appleby’.

The files reveal data of over 25,000 companies owned by individuals from 180 countries, from 1950 to 2016.

Below is a comparison of Paradise Papers with Panama Papers:

Number of politicians and public officials

Paradise Papers: 127 politicians and public officials (14 current or former country leaders included) from more than 47 countries

Panama Papers: 140 politicians and public officials from more than 50 countries

Which leak is the bigger than other?

Paradise Papers is bigger in number of records (13.5 million in Paradise Papers vs. 11.5 million in Panama Papers) and Panama Papers is bigger in terms of size of the leak (1.4 Tb in Paradise Papers vs. 2.6 Tb in Panama Papers).

Due to that, I would recommend to say “one of the biggest leaks in the history of journalism” instead of the biggest and then you could compare some of the different figures related to the data size between Paradise Papers and previous leaks.

Journalists in Paradise Papers project

Media partners, countries, journalists

* Number of journalists 381

* Number of media partners 96

* Number of countries 67

If you just consider the number of journalists, yes. There are more journalists working on the Paradise Papers than the Panama Papers at the time of the project release (381 Paradise Papers – 376 Panama Papers).

As for the number of media partners and number of countries, there are a few less. Panama Papers had 100+ media partners and 76 countries. The ICIJ currently has for Paradise Papers 96 media partners and 67 countries.

Disclaimer: It is pertinent to note here that not every offshore firm is necessarily illegal.