Media organizations across the world revealed a massive leak of millions of financial documents Sunday that outlined the elaborate steps taken by elite politicians and other wealthy individuals to shield their wealth from tax collectors.
The leak, which has been dubbed the Paradise Papers, contained more than 13 million files taken mostly from a single Bermuda-based legal services company, Appleby.
The files were initially leaked to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with around 100 different media outlets affiliated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The disclosures date back as far as 70 years ago and show the murky, but mostly legal, ways in which some of the biggest names in politics and media protect their wealth through various offshore schemes.
So far, the documents have revealed how millions of dollars’ from the Queen’s private estate wound up in a Cayman Islands fund, numerous offshore dealings by high-ranking members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet and shown how Russian state financial institutions invested millions of dollars in Twitter and Facebook.
Also implicated in the Paradise Papers is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraiser, Stephen Bronfman, who helped move millions of dollars through a complex web of offshore accounts.
Appleby claims to have investigated all the allegations contained in the Paradise Papers and found “no evidence of wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients.”
“We are a law firm which advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business. We do not tolerate illegal behavior,” the company added, in a statement to The Guardian.
The Paradise Papers leak marks the second largest data leak in history and closely resembles the Panama Papers leaked last year from the law firm Mossack Fonseca. Those leaks similarly showed the ways in which the wealthy use secretive offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.
VOA’s Ray Choto is among the journalists involved with the Paradise Papers. He says it is much bigger than the Panama Papers in terms of files and that more journalists were involved.