ICIJ Lifts Veil on Offshore World

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86 INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS FROM 46 COUNTRIES WORKED ON WHAT MAY BE LARGEST-EVER CROSS BORDER JOURNALISM COLLABORATION 

WASHINGTON, DC – The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a project of the Center for Public Integrity, released today its first of many reports from a 15-month investigation that cracks open the historically impenetrable world of offshore tax havens. 

Drawing from a leaked trove of 2.5 million digital files, ICIJ led what may be the largest cross border journalism collaboration in history. 

Listen to the press conference given by ICIJ director Gerard Ryle, deputy director Marina Walker Guevara, and senior editor Michael Hudson, about the investigation.

ICIJ’s investigation opens the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts and nearly 130,000 individuals and agents, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con artists, and the mega-rich in more than 170 countries. Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze, ICIJ’s largest investigative reporting project in its 15- year history, is available at www.icij.org/offshore.

The stories released today by the ICIJ and its partner outlets around the world are the first installment in an ongoing series.  An initial group of stories will run between April 3 and April 15, 2013 with more reporting to follow throughout the year as ICIJ and its partners continue the investigation.

“This investigation lifts the curtain on the offshore system and provides a transparent look into the secret world of tax havens and the individuals and companies that use and benefit from them,” said Gerard Ryle, Director of the ICIJ.   “We already knew how secret and inaccessible the offshore industry is, but we were surprised by how vast and far reaching it is. It draws its clients not only from the world’s super-wealthy, but also from everyday professionals from all around the world.” 

The files identify the individuals behind the covert companies and private trusts based in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands, Singapore and other offshore havens. They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as Russia corporate executives, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Wall Street fraudsters, international arms dealers and families and associates of long-time dictators.

Among the investigation’s key findings:

  • Government officials and their families and associates in Azerbaijan, Russia, Canada, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Canada, Mongolia and other countries have embraced the use of covert companies and bank accounts.
     
  • The mega-rich use complex offshore structures to own mansions, yachts, art masterpieces and other assets, gaining tax advantages and anonymity not available to average people.
     
  • Many of the world’s top’s banks – including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank – have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways.
     
  • A well-paid industry of accountants, middlemen and other operatives has helped offshore patrons shroud their identities and business interests, providing shelter in many cases to money laundering or other misconduct.
     
  • Ponzi schemers and other large-scale fraudsters routinely use offshore havens to pull off their shell games and move their ill-gotten gains.

While reporting by the ICIJ and its partners shows that many users of offshore are engaged in legitimate transactions, the project team’s investigations raise questions about the lack of transparency, lax law enforcement and illegal practices that are prevalent in the offshore world.

“This investigation was the most extensive in our history. It would not have been possible without the cooperation of our international partners,” said Bill Buzenberg, Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity.  “Because of the magnitude of this cross-border collaboration we are able to provide a window onto the offshore world, an important step toward bringing transparency and accountability to an industry that over the last several years has grown beyond regulation and control.”

The collection of leaked information, totaling more than 260 gigabytes of data, includes corporate files, emails, account ledgers, and other records that show cash transfers, incorporation dates and links between individuals and companies. It is believed to be one of the largest collections of leaked data gathered and analyzed by journalists.

The files illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy to avoid taxes, fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations. The current banking crisis in Cyprus is one example of how the offshore system can impact an entire country’s financial stability. 

The ICIJ worked with 86 investigative journalists from 46 countries and used data mining software and old fashioned shoe leather reporting to unveil the previously hidden but thriving world of fraud, tax dodging and political corruption.  

To analyze the documents, ICIJ collaborated with journalists from The Guardian and the BBC in the U.K., Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and 31 other media partners around the world.

The reporters and editors on the project team thoroughly fact-checked the data and cross-referenced it with other information, including court records, government reports and financial databases. Team members interviewed hundreds of experts, government officials, attorneys, offshore clients and other sources around the world.

Among the countries included in the data are: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela. 

Advisory Committee

Bill Kovach, United States, former curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and an American newspaperman for 30 years, is the North American representative and chair of the ICIJ Advisory Committee.

Kovach has been a journalist and writer for 40 years, including 18 years as a reporter and editor for The New York Times. As an editor, Kovach supervised reporting projects that won four Pulitzer Prizes, including two during his two-year tenure as editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the first Pulitzers awarded to that paper in 20 years.

Kovach was a 1988-89 Nieman fellow at Harvard University and remained as curator of the Nieman Foundation journalism fellowship program until 2000.

Among his many other awards are the Sigma Delta Chi Award for contributions to journalism research in 2000, the National Mental Health Award in 1968, the New York State Bar Association Award in 1968, the AEJMC Professional Freedom and Responsibility Award in 1992, the Sigma Delta Chi First Amendment Award in 1996, the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2000, and the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award, which was accompanied by an honorary doctorate from Colby College.

Kovach served on Pulitzer juries from 1987-1990 and is a board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

He is co-author of Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, and Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload.

Kovach is a long-time advisory board member of the Center for Public Integrity.

Charles Lewis, United States, is a tenured professor of journalism and founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University in Washington, D.C.

He has been a national investigative journalist for more than 30 years, and is the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Lewis left a successful career as a producer for ABC News and the CBS News program 60 Minutes and began the Center, which under his 15-year leadership published roughly 300 investigative reports, including 14 books, its work honored more than 30 times by national journalism organizations.

He is the co-author of five Center books, including the bestseller, The Buying of the President 2004, and author of 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity (June 2014). He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998 and the PEN USA First Amendment award in 2004.

Lewis co-founded the Fund for Independence in Journalism in 2003, which he led as its president for five years, and Global Integrity in 2005.

He has been a Ferris Professor at Princeton University and a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Rosental Calmon Alves, United States/Brazil, is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where he holds the first John S. & James L. Knight Chair in International Journalism. For a decade, Alves worked as a foreign correspondent for Brazil’s daily newspaper, Jornal do Brasil, reporting from Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States. He taught journalism at two Rio de Janeiro universities and in 1987-88 became the first Brazilian to be selected as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. As a correspondent and editor, he has participated in or directed several investigative reporting projects. Alves is the Latin American representative on the Advisory Committee.

Phillip Knightley, Britain, was a member of The Sunday Times' Insight team in its heyday, and it was there that he first uncovered the Kim Philby spy scandal. He later discovered that the newspaper’s executives had informed British intelligence about the activities of their journalists.

The Australian-born Knightley also played a central role in investigating and exposing thalidomide birth defects and later detailed the scandal, which came to be known as the Profumo affair, in his 1987 book An Affair of State.

The author of nine books, Knightley wrote A Hack’s Progress about his life as an investigative reporter in 1998. In 2000, Knightley released his latest book, Australia: A Biography of a Nation.

He is the European representative on the Advisory Committee.

Read Phillip Knightley's essay on how to be a great investigative reporter in ICIJ's Secrets of the Masters series.

Gwen Lister, Namibia, founded The Namibian in 1985 during apartheid colonialism in the country. The newspaper and staff were consistently targeted by right-wing elements and security forces because of the perception that the newspaper supported the liberation movement. Lister was jailed twice, in 1984 under the Official Secrets Act, and in June 1988, when she was detained without trial and denied access to a lawyer. Authorities jailed her the second time in an attempt to force her to reveal the source of a secret document she had published, which proposed sweeping new powers for the police. She was four months pregnant at the time. Attacks on the newspaper and harassment of its staff culminated in an arson attack that destroyed the offices of The Namibian in October 1988.

After independence in 1990, the newspaper was again targeted by right-wing elements after a front-page report about a possible coup attempt against the new government. The editorial offices were damaged in a phosphorous grenade firebombing. In these and other bombings, The Namibian never missed an edition.

The role of The Namibian in pre-independence Namibia has been honored by a number of international awards. In 2000, Lister was named one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the last half century by the International Press Institute. In 1992, she was awarded a Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award and the Press Freedom Award of the Media Institute of South Africa.

In October 2011, after 26 years at the helm of The Namibian Lister handed over the reins to Tangeni Amupadhi. At the same time she formalized the non-profit Namibia Media Trust which owns the newpaper, and appointed other Trustees. Lister is Executive Director of The Free Press of Namibia (Pty) Ltd and Chairs the Trust - in terms of which the profits of The Namibian are ploughed back into promotion of free and independent press, excellence and training in journalism in the wider media community.

Lister was a 1996 Nieman fellow at Harvard.

Goenawan Mohamad, Indonesia, is founder and editor of Tempo magazine, Indonesia's most-respected newsmagazine. It was banned by the Suharto government in 1994 after publishing details of the government’s purchase of aging East German destroyers, a confidential subject of dispute among Suharto’s cabinet members. In 1995, Mohamad founded the Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI) which produced alternative media intended to circumvent censorship. Mohamad later formed the Alliance of Independent Journalists, the only independent journalism organization in Indonesia. Following Suharto’s resignation in May 1998, Mohamad led a group of reporters in restarting Tempo online and in print. Mohamad was a 1990 Nieman fellow at Harvard University and in 1997 received the Nieman fellows’ Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism. In 1998, he was awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award. Mohamad is a visiting history professor at the University of California at Berkeley this year, where he will teach courses in Indonesian and Southeast Asian culture. Mohamad is the Asian representative on the Advisory Committee.

Reginald Chua is Editor, Data and Innovation at Thomson Reuters, based in New York. From July 2009 to March 2011, he was Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Post, responsible for the editorial operations of the Hong Kong-based news media company. Prior to that, he had a 16-year run at The Wall Street Journal, including as a Deputy Managing Editor in New York, where he managed the global newsroom budget, supervised the graphics team, and helped develop the paper’s computer-assisted reporting capabilities. He began a 16-year career at the Journal as a correspondent in Manila, opened the paper’s bureau in Hanoi, became the longest-serving editor of the Journal’s Hong Kong-based Asian edition, then moved to New York, where his initial duties were to manage the paper’s global newsroom budget and administration. During his eight-year tenure as editor of the Asian Journal, the paper won numerous Society of Publishers in Asia awards for editorial excellence; staff at the paper also won a Pulitzer Prize and an Overseas Press Club of America award. He also covered the Philippines for the Straits Times, worked at Reuters in Singapore, and was a television and radio journalist at the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corp. A native of Singapore, Reginald graduated with a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s in Mathematics from the University of Chicago.

Brant Houston, United States, is a journalism professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he holds the John S. & James L. Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting. Houston served for more than 10 years as executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a nonprofit organization of more than 4,000 members, and as a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He co-founded the Global Investigative Journalism Network in 2003 and is chair of the recently formed Investigative News Network. Before joining IRE, Houston was an award-winning investigative reporter for 17 years at metropolitan papers in the United States. He is author of Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide and co-author of The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook. He has taught investigative reporting and computer-assisted reporting in more than a dozen countries.

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