The Council of the European Union has formally requested the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to release to each EU member state any information from its leaked cache of offshore financial data that may involve citizens of those countries.
In a letter addressed to ICIJ director Gerard Ryle, the chairman of the European Council High Level Working Party (Taxation), Niall Cody, said the work of ICIJ in highlighting the role of offshore financial centers is a “significant development in the ongoing fight against tax evasion” and that the release of “entity ownership data to EU tax authorities would lead to unpaid taxes being recovered, with sanctions applied, in cases of tax evasion.”
The EU Council is not the first government agency interested in getting access to the massive leak of financial information that ICIJ has analyzed and reported on for more than 15 months with leading media outlets around the world. Earlier requests came from the United States, Germany, Greece, South Korea and Canada.
ICIJ’s position has not changed: the consortium and its media partners will not release the offshore data to government agencies.
ICIJ is not an arm of law enforcement and is not an agent of the government. It is an independent reporting organization, served by and serving its members, the global investigative journalism community and the public.
The request from the EU Council to ICIJ comes just a few weeks after the governments of the U.S., U.K. and Australia announced that they have had – some of them from as early as 2010 – what appears to be largely the same data ICIJ obtained. The three countries said they were planning to share the information with tax authorities around the world upon request.
In its June 18 letter, the EU Council makes no reference to the fact that one of its member states, the U.K., already has the information the Council is seeking from journalists. Instead it says it would be “negligent of tax authorities to not seek any additional information ICIJ may hold.” The EU Council is the institution that gathers national ministries from each EU country to adopt laws and coordinate policies.
Last Saturday ICIJ unveiled the Offshore Leaks Database, an interactive Web application with basic corporate ownership data on more than 100,000 companies and trusts across 10 offshore jurisdictions. The database allows users to explore the networks around offshore companies, including true owners. It got more than 3 million page views in the first 48 hours.
While unprecedented in its scope, the Offshore Leaks Database is a small part of the data ICIJ received and has used to report stories with 112 journalists in 58 countries. ICIJ will not release en masse private data such as bank account information, financial transactions, passport numbers, emails addresses and correspondence.
The stories by ICIJ and its partners have shaken financial and political establishments in Europe and elsewhere, triggering official investigations, resignations and a renewed sense of urgency among world leaders to tackle the abuses of tax havens.