Pandora Papers Leak Spotlighting Tax Havens

The leaked files reveal the financial maneuverings of more than 330 politicians and top public officials from around the world, including dozens of current national leaders.

(Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

The leak of an enormous trove of tax-haven files over the weekend offered a further glimpse into the secretive world of offshore finance — a system facilitated by the U.S. and other rich nations — and prompted calls for immediate changes to global rules that let the powerful hide their wealth, skirt their obligations, and starve governments of crucial revenue.

“This is where our missing hospitals are,” Susana Ruiz, the tax policy lead at Oxfam International, said in a statement. “This is where the pay-packets sit of all the extra teachers and firefighters and public servants we need. Whenever a politician or business leader claims there is ‘no money’ to pay for climate damage and innovation, for more and better jobs, for a fair post-Covid recovery, for more overseas aid, they know where to look.”

“Tax havens cost governments around the world $427 billion each year,” Ruiz added. “That is the equivalent of a nurse’s yearly salary every second of every hour, every day. Ordinary taxpayers have to pick up the pieces. Developing countries are being hardest hit, proportionately. Corporations and the wealthiest individuals that use tax havens are out-competing those who don’t. Tax havens also help crime and corruption to flourish.”

Like the 2016 Panama Papers, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) Pandora Papers shine additional light on the functioning of a “shadow economy” that world leaders, celebrities and billionaire business moguls — including some accused of egregious crimes — are exploiting to shield trillions of dollars in assets from transparency and taxation.

The 11.9 million files obtained, analyzed, and leaked by the ICIJ reveal the closely-guarded financial maneuverings of more than 330 politicians and top public officials from nearly 100 countries and territories, including dozens of current national leaders.

“The secret documents expose offshore dealings of the King of Jordan, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya, and Ecuador, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair,” ICIJ notes in a summary of its sprawling cache of documents. “The files also detail financial activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ‘unofficial minister of propaganda’ and more than 130 billionaires from Russia, the United States, Turkey, and other nations.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah II in 2013. (World Economic Forum, Flickr)

The trove also links prominent athletes, models, and artists to offshore assets, including India’s famous cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, pop music star Shakira, and supermodel Claudia Schiffer.

But Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network, cautioned that a narrow focus on the individuals who have made use of an international tax system rigged in their favor diverts attention from the institutions and countries that have done the rigging.

“These personal actions are shameful and will no doubt come under great scrutiny in the coming days, but it’s important that we don’t lose sight of one crucial fact: few of the individuals had any role in turning the global tax system into an ATM for the superrich,” Cobham wrote in a blog post on Sunday. “That honor goes to the professional enablers — banks, law firms, and accountants — and the countries that facilitate them.”

US Biggest Peddler of Financial Secrecy 

South Dakota, the home of Mount Rushmore, has been identified by the Pandora Papers as a magnet for offshore funds. (Winkelvi, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Cobham observed that the Pandora Papers — the product of a nearly two-year investigation by more than 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories — confirm that the United States is “the world’s biggest peddler of financial secrecy.”

“The biggest blockers to transparency are the U.S. … and the U.K., the leader of the world’s biggest tax haven network,” Cobham wrote. “We need full transparency so we can hold tax abusers accountable, especially when our politicians are among them. U.S. President Biden must match his own rhetoric on shutting down global illicit finance, and start with the biggest offender—his own country.”

As the ICIJ notes, the new files show in some detail “how the United States, in particular, has become an increasingly attractive destination for hidden wealth, although the U.S. and its Western allies condemn smaller countries for allowing the flow of money and assets tied to corruption and crime.”

Please Support Our Fall Fund Drive!

“The Pandora Papers include documents from 206 U.S. trusts in 15 states and Washington, D.C., and 22 U.S. trustee companies,” the ICIJ points out. “The documents provide details about the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars from offshore havens in the Caribbean and Europe into South Dakota, a sparsely populated American state that has become a major destination for foreign money.”

“We in the U.S. should be embarrassed that we’ve become a magnet for kleptocratic funds,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Conspicuously absent from the Pandora Papers is any mention of the wealthiest people in the U.S., including Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world. But as The Washington Post explains, that could be because “the uber-rich in the United States tend to pay such low tax rates that they have less incentive to seek offshore havens.”

In response to the Pandora Papers revelations, Oxfam called on world governments to crack down on tax havens by taking a number of steps, including:

  1. Ending tax secrecy on individuals, offshores, and multinational corporations. Set up a public register on the real owners of bank accounts, trusts, shell companies, and assets. Require multinational corporations to publicly report their accounts where they do business, country-by-country.
  2. Increasing the use of automatic exchange, allowing revenue authorities access to information they need to track the money.
  3. Ending corporate profit shifting to tax havens via new rules, and by setting a global minimum tax under the OECD’s BEPS deal, ideally of around 25 percent.
  4. Agreeing a global blacklist of tax havens and taking counter measures, including sanctions, to limit their use.
  5. Setting a new global agenda on taxing wealth and capital fairly; addressing tax competition between countries on high-net-worth-individuals, either on income or wealth, against agreed standards.

“Governments’ promises to end tax havens are still a long way from being realized,” said Ruiz. “We cannot allow tax havens to continue to stretch global inequality to breaking point while the world experiences the largest increase in extreme poverty in decades.”

This article is from Common Dreams.

Please Support Our
Fall Fund Drive!

Donate securely with PayPal


Or securely by credit card or check by clicking the red button:



13 comments for “Pandora Papers Leak Spotlighting Tax Havens

  1. Vera Gottlieb
    October 7, 2021 at 15:19

    I am much more interested on finally getting to read names of those who have been arrested, behind bars, and returning all the stolen money.

  2. Skip Edwards
    October 6, 2021 at 18:30

    When empires start to fail they bring down a lot of the rich with them. What props up a failing empire and causes its subjects to continue their support of it in that false idol representation more than war? Hence our ‘endless wars’.

  3. Tommy Tucker
    October 5, 2021 at 19:18

    He isn’t known as ‘Credit Card Joe’ from Delaware for nothing.

  4. Rob
    October 5, 2021 at 13:02

    Here is a very insightful piece from “Moon of Alabama” suggesting that Pandora and similar leaks are likely the work of Western intelligence agencies. Notice that no Americans are listed in the Pandora Papers.


  5. XonEarth
    October 5, 2021 at 12:34

    And don’t forget the state of Delaware, Biden’s tax haven.

  6. renate
    October 5, 2021 at 12:30

    The powerful were powerful enough to make it possible and they are powerful enough to keep it that way.
    It could change if the powerful would be people with more morals and ethics. But they are intellectually and morally bankrupt, not to pay taxes is only a part of the problem.

    • Skip Edwards
      October 6, 2021 at 18:21

      Who was it that said, “only fools pay taxes.”

  7. Rob
    October 5, 2021 at 11:09

    Can anyone point to a single material change that resulted from the exposure of the Panama Papers five years ago? Just asking?

  8. JeffB
    October 5, 2021 at 09:49

    This makes it even more laughable that the US is proposing the IRS have access to everyday working people’s bank accounts so as to insure they don’t miss a potential tax liability – no matter how insignificant. (If you think the IRS doesn’t already have that access, you’re too trusting.) Even more disconcerting, this idea is posited by those who are most likely to find their names in these Panama Papers. What a country. What a world.

    • Skip Edwards
      October 6, 2021 at 18:23

      The ‘Empire’ is failing, falling and imploding.

  9. PEG
    October 5, 2021 at 04:45

    Even though it’s easy to get upset about tax evasion (or avoidance) by “public servants” and oligarchs of various stripes, it would be much more interesting to go a step further and determine WHY the information is being released now, who benefits, and who’s supporting the ICIJ. Andrej Babis may well be somewhat of a crook, but there are Parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic at the end of this week, and someone is certainly benefiting heavily from last week’s release of information on his secret Cote d’Azur mansion. Ditto for others. Similar to information being released to Le Canard Enchainé about Francois Fillon keeping his wife on the payroll at state expense shortly before the last French Presidential elections, which resulted in Macron becoming president.

    One can’t blame missing hospitals, teachers and firefighters only on tax dodgers. There are more important factors such as bloated military budgets and the general fraud, waste and abuse of big government. Tax dodging plays a rather minor role in this regard.

  10. James Simpson
    October 5, 2021 at 02:52

    I can accurately forecast the future. I am a seer, a dreamer of dreams… I can say with cast-iron certainty that, in the future, not a single one of the five demands made by Oxfam will ever be implemented. The class war has ended and the poor lost.

    • October 5, 2021 at 11:09

      Another example of measures that could/should enacted is the Financial Transaction Tax which has all the attributes of an effective tax: It raises a lot of money especially with respect to its administrative costs, is equitable, and its impact is not harmful (except perhaps for those giant hedge funds that trade millions of shares at a time all day long).
      But, as James Simpson correctly notes on the Oxfam 5, its chances of passing are nil.

Comments are closed.