This week, the Paradise Papers released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its partners, showed us how the rich and powerful are able to hide and hoard their wealth through complex and opaque financial structures.
The sheer volume of the Paradise Papers documents (13.4million in all) hints at a vast, secret parallel financial universe where the reporting requirements that the rest of us are subject to do not apply.
Public figures, such as the Queen and US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, are shown to have hidden offshore investments, while companies involved include household names such as Apple, Nike and Uber.
You might think: “So what? This isn’t necessarily illegal.”
Well, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned.
The documents show that even the compliance manager at offshore law firm Appleby found plenty to worry about, like large amounts of money that were “definitely tainted”, and proceeds of alleged corruption infiltrating the business.
They reveal activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo by mining giant Glencore, which appears to have secured under-valued extraction licenses with the help of a powerful lobbyist that it loaned $45million to.
The documents also reveal how the company that manages Angola’s sovereign wealth fund used this money to finance its other projects. And how Kazakhstan’s former oil minister built up a vast personal fortune obscured behind a labyrinthine network of companies held by a corporation called Meridian.
“This was possible, in part, thanks to Kazakhstan’s notorious corruption and weak rule of law,” write the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. “But it was the Meridian founders’ exploitation of the international financial system that enabled them to hide their riches from the eyes of their own people.”
That’s the problem here, and that’s why we’re calling for tougher controls on the offshore financial markets.
Secrecy can lead to corruption, and the kinds of structures exposed in the Paradise Papers are the tools of the trade that the corrupt use to launder their ill-gotten gains.