PRESS FREEDOM

Paradise Papers: ICIJ partners and Appleby agree to settlement

Law firm Appleby has ended its legal action against the the Guardian and the BBC over their roles in the Paradise Papers investigation into the use of offshore tax havens by some of the world’s richest and most powerful individuals and companies.

In an agreed statement following the confidential settlement, the parties announced that they had “resolved their differences” in relation to Appleby’s breach of confidence claim concerning the leak.

Appleby said it wanted to know which of its confidential documents had been taken so that it could “respond meaningfully” to clients, regulators and colleagues about them.

The statement said the Guardian and the BBC had, “without compromising their journalistic integrity,” assisted Appleby by explaining which of its documents may have underpinned their journalism.

Prior to the settlement, the Guardian reported that Appleby had sought damages for both the disclosure of what it claimed were confidential legal documents obtained in a hack, and disclosure of any documents that had informed the news organizations’ reporting.

The agreement between Appleby, the Guardian and the BBC was reached after it became evident that most of documents were, in fact, not legally privileged.

The joint statement explains that it is “now clear” that the vast majority of documents were related to a fiduciary business no longer owned by Appleby and “so were not legally privileged documents.”

The settlement statement does not refer to any requirement to pay damages.

A spokesperson for the Guardian said: “The Guardian’s reporting from the Paradise Papers is investigative journalism that has raised important issues in the public interest.”

The BBC said the settlement preserved its ability to carry out investigative journalism in the public interest.

About half of the 13.4 million confidential electronic documents in the Paradise Papers were from Appleby, a Bermuda-founded firm that is one of the world’s largest providers of offshore legal services.

The leaked data covering seven decades, from 1950 to 2016, exposed the offshore tax affairs of hundreds of politicians, celebrities and household names, including Queen Elizabeth’s private estate.

Appleby group managing partner Michael O’Connell said, “From the outset we wanted to be able to explain to our clients and colleagues what information of theirs had been stolen.

“That was our duty. As a result of this legal action we are well on our way to achieving our objectives.”

The BBC and the Guardian were part of a global investigation into offshore tax havens involving nearly 400 journalists in 67 countries after the Paradise Papers were leaked to German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Earlier this week, in a surprise response to the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations, the British Parliament voted to force overseas UK territories, including the Caymans and the British Virgin Islands, to abolish corporate secrecy.

The Guardian said last year that it would defend the Appleby claim because to not do so could have profound consequences that would deter the UK media from undertaking serious, investigative journalism.