Jina Lim, Editor
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is a non-profit organization that uses journalism and investigations to expose international truths and hold people in power accountable. In its history, three investigations stand out amongst others, especially the most recent of the three, published just over a month ago. The Panama, Paradise, and Pandora Papers were released in April 2016, November 2017, and October 2021 respectively. All three papers are focused around exposing many offshore bank accounts and tax avoidance schemes of influential people around the world, and have targeted and exposed many influential people such as Russian president Vladimir Putin, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Shakira, and more.
The Pandora Papers were the largest ever created by the ICIJ, consisting of over 12 million documents and 2.64 terabytes of information collected from 14 different service providers that uncover the shell companies and over 3,000 offshore bank accounts of influential and wealthy clients. And people exposed in the paper included 35 world leaders, 330+ politicians and public officials in 91 states, as well as terrorist organizations and criminal enterprises. Which in all, seems to indicate that despite the revelations from previous publications, the Pandora Papers are evident that little has changed in the world of the rich and powerful’s tax avoidance.
This is not to say that ICIJ’s papers do not bring some kind of consequences for the people listed. Sure, some are celebrities who do not necessarily have to face the consequences of their semi-legal actions, but some are powerful politicians who depend on the people to keep them in power. The Pandora Papers have led to the impeachment of President Sebastián Piñera of Chile by their lower house of Congress and many more countries, such as Pakistan, Mexico, and Spain have launched their own investigations towards the listed figures. The Paradise Papers have led more or less to wider impacts such as the European finance ministers publishing a blacklist of 17 tax havens and the European Union (EU) announcing their plans for tighter corporate oversight. The Panama Papers have also brought about their wave of changes. It was the stepping stone for U.S. legislation such as the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act and the For the People Act, which have still yet to pass but hold promise of closing some of the most glaring loopholes revealed by these investigations. And it has caused many countries listed as tax havens themselves such as Panama, New Zealand, and Ghana to tighten their tax and transparency regulations.
In fact, these papers have all brought about both individual and systemic consequences to a good number of the figures and companies listed in the papers. And despite all this information and crackdown on tax regulations, more ICIJ Papers are published because the wealthy and the privileged have the resources to create new loopholes and prevent certain sections of the law from ever becoming reality.
This was made ever more clear by the Pandora Papers. The Pandora Papers, while it had all the hallmarks of being a traditional offshore exposé paper that the previous ones were before, was different in that it listed some unexpected new tax havens. . In recent years, states such as South Dakota, Florida, Delaware, Texas, and Nevada have been a burgeoning hub for offshore (or onshore, in some cases) accounts, while policies have remained focused on traditional offshore havens such as the Bahamas, Ghana, and etc. This holds true in some other European countries such as Switzerland, which struggled with lack of transparency in how money moves in their domestic banking systems due to the banking secrecy. The United States, specifically, has been pressured to increase transparency due to the secretive nature of American bank accounts, companies, and trusts. The U.S. also refused to join the 2014 agreement supported by more than 100 national jurisdictions that would require American financial institutions to share information they have about foreigners’ assets. This created a blindspot inside this already largely unseen and often glossed over issue. It is clear that just targeting the traditional tax havens is not enough anymore to stop offshore companies and shell companies.
The ICIJ Papers are not a one time, end all be all solution, and it’s not fair to expect each paper to solve the offshore account problem all together. It only exists to highlight the problems of the present and expose the ever evolving mechanisms of the wealthy and the privileged. The response should be by the people and the government to react and change the systematic causes instead.
Offshore havens and hidden riches of world leaders and billionaires exposed in unprecedented leak. ICIJ. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.icij.org/investigations/pandora-papers/global-investigation-tax-havens-offshore/
Medina, Spencer Woodman and Brenda, et al. “Governments Vow Investigations within Hours of Pandora Papers Revelations.” ICIJ, 4 Oct. 2021, https://www.icij.org/investigations/pandora-papers/governments-vow-investigations-within-hours-of-pandora-papers-revelations/.
“Chilean President Impeached over Pandora Papers Revelation.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 9 Nov. 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/senate-sebastian-pinera-pandora-papers-santiago-british-virgin-islands-b1954322.html.
Hudson, W. F. and M., Fitzgibbon, W., Hudson, M., (2021, April 8).
Five years later, Panama Papers still having a big impact. ICIJ. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.icij.org/investigations/panama-papers/five-years-later-panama-papers-still-having-a-big-impact/
CJR. “The Quiet Impact of The Paradise Papers.” Columbia Journalism Review, https://www.cjr.org/watchdog/paradise-papers-icij-tax-havens.php.
Starkman, W. F. and D., Fitzgibbon, W., Starkman, D., ICIJ, I. R. F. /, Zucman, I. G., Hildebrand, J., Stiglitz, J., Alecci, S., Díaz-Struck, E., Bowers, S., Gallego, C. S., Woodman, S., Chittum, R., Crucianelli, S., Kuijpers, K., (2017, December 27). The ‘paradise papers’ and the Long Twilight Struggle Against Offshore Secrecy. ICIJ. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.icij.org/investigations/paradise-papers/paradise-papers-long-twilight-struggle-offshore-secrecy/