Pandora Papers expose international tax abuse

What do Shakira, Queen Elizabeth the Second, and Russian Oligarchs have in common? According to the Pandora Papers, they are all involved in exploiting tax and secrecy havens to obtain assets under the radar: successfully avoiding taxation and regulation by the government. 

The biggest leak of its kind, the Pandora Papers are a 2.94 terabyte data collection documenting the secret offshore service providers serving the world’s richest and most elite clientele. Released 2 years after the investigation began by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, it united over 600 journalists in 117 countries to compile and sort through the multitudes of information on the most exclusive money smuggling ring.

The people involved include Forbes billionaires, drug dealers, and religious leaders all across the globe- encompassing all viable pathways of making money. Spanning five decades, the gigabytes of raw information take the form of various documents, emails, images, and other media portraying the exploitation of offshore bank accounts to cover up corruption, smuggling, and trafficking. This illicit flow of money was linked to many high profile cases of corruption including FIFA Gate and alleged pilfering of Venezuelan public funds.

Offshore industries have historically operated on self-reported claims of thorough vetting and stringent legal policy. But the recent leak proves their lax, if not negligent, treatment of security abetted the financial maneuvers of people facing criminal investigations, concealing art and antiquities from backhanded origins, and profiting off of evictions in the midst of the pandemic. It also shows the million dollars worth of trusts dedicated to disgraced Roman Catholic members implicated in the international sex-abuse scandal.

Impacts on poorer nations are especially profound as build-ups of wealth starve national treasuries of much needed funds for infrastructure and essential functions including hospitals. Documents revealed that many in charge of internal investigations aimed at reducing such cases of corruption are oftentimes involved in the shady financial dealings: leaving no one accountable as the economy and people struggle. Touching virtually all levels of government, many current and former kings, prime ministers, and secretaries of countries were found to secretly fund businesses and assets through the seditious protective front of anonymity and discretion. 

This front works by allowing investors to create and register a corporation in areas, such as the Bahamas or South Dakota, that procure little to no tax rates at no expense of their public image due to the difficulty in tracing corporate ownership. Underneath this guise, the uber-rich can purchase real estate, own shell companies, and other substantial sources of income without losing any of it to tax. According to the Washington Post, trusts especially render the situation murky as the regulation surrounding them creates a loophole wherein neither the beneficiaries nor owners of the trust claim ownership to the assets within it. Companies and individuals can thus shield any assets from being reported as taxable income.

The widespread abuse of the legal loopholes and lack of enforcement has created a system wherein individuals are shielded from legal, criminal, and moral repercussions at the expense of the international community.