ICIJ database cracks open secret world

ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists today releases an interactive database that helps crack open the historically impenetrable world of offshore tax havens.  

The ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database allows the public to search through more than 100,000 secret companies, trusts and funds created in offshore locales such as the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands and Singapore.

We are doing this because the political climate has changed so much over the past few months, ever since we published the second part of a multi-year investigative series that aims to strip away the secrecy associated with tax havens.

EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta said the ICIJ’s investigation has transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion – knocking down what the EU Observer called “a wall of apathy” in Europe that had thwarted previous attempts to attack offshore secrecy.

Semeta said the need for tax transparency overrides the principle of data privacy.

Thanks in part to the ICIJ project, tax evasion and offshore secrecy will be a central theme of next week’s meeting of G8 industrialized nations. The chair of that meeting, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, has gone on the record saying the time has come “to knock down the walls of company secrecy” that make the offshore system attractive to money launderers, fraudsters and other criminals. 

The Offshore Leaks Database helps remove a small part of this secrecy. It opens up records that may help bring accountability to an industry that has long operated in the shadows.

It is important to note however that there are legitimate reasons to use offshore companies and trusts. ICIJ does not intend to suggest or imply that the people and companies included in the database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.

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The Offshore Leaks investigation

The data are part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked files ICIJ analyzed with 112 journalists in 58 countries. Since April, stories based on the data — the largest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever obtained by a media organization — have been published by more than 40 media organizations worldwide, including The Guardian in the U.K., Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

ICIJ’s investigation — dubbed “Offshore Leaks” by the Twittersphere and the public — has shaken political and financial institutions from South Korea to Canada.  The ICIJ team’s news reports have:

  • Triggered official investigations into tax dodging and other possible crimes in the Philippines, India, Greece and South Korea.
     
  • Prompted high-profile resignations of political and business leaders, including the deputy speaker of the Mongolian parliament and Austria’s most famed banker.
     
  • Sparked a renewed sense of urgency among world leaders, transforming tax-haven politics in the European Union and amplifying political will to tackle offshore tax evasion.

The ICIJ Offshore Leaks web app

The Offshore Leaks web app was developed by La Nación newspaper in Costa Rica for ICIJ. A number of ICIJ members and non-members worked on the project, over many months.

The Offshore Leaks web app allows readers to explore the relationships between clients, offshore entities and the lawyers, accountants, banks and other intermediaries who help keep these arrangements secret. The web app displays graphic visualizations of offshore entities and the networks around them including, when possible, the company’s true owners.

The Offshore Leaks Database is not a “data dump.” Rather, it is a careful release of basic corporate information. ICIJ will not release personal data en masse, and has intentionally withheld records of bank accounts and financial transactions, emails and other correspondence, passports and telephone numbers.

After more than a year researching and reporting, ICIJ reporters and partners are still digging into this massive trove of financial information. The Offshore Leaks Database gives ICIJ an opportunity to reach journalists and regular citizens in every corner of the world, particularly in countries most affected by corruption and backroom deals.

ICIJ believes many of the best stories may come from crowdsourcing, when readers explore the database. The public can help us in this critically important work by feeding us further leads about the offshore world that point us to things that might be important. 

What's next?

As it fields tips from the public, ICIJ will continue to work on in-depth, cross-border investigations with its network of reporters and media partners.

At the same time, ICIJ will continue to reject demands from governments that it turn over all its offshore files. ICIJ is an independent network of investigative reporters — not an arm of government. 

If you have story tips, documents or other information about this issue, contact us at investigations@icij.org.

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