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German state buys Pandora Papers data, invites authorities to investigate

Authorities in the state of Hesse have reportedly already started flagging “cases worthy of examination” in a dataset that includes more than 10 million files.

The German state of Hesse says it has purchased a Pandora Papers dataset and intends to lead an international investigation into tax crimes based upon it.

Hesse, home to the Frankfurt financial center, said the 10.4 million documents had been offered to state and federal authorities in Germany and to the European Union.

Hessian Finance Minister Michael Boddenberg said in a statement that Hesse had bought the documents for an undisclosed sum. He did not reveal who the seller was.

In 2021, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published the findings of a global investigation into the Pandora Papers, the largest-ever leak of offshore data.

ICIJ, which was leaked 11.9 million records from 14 offshore providers that it named the Pandora Papers, does not hand over documents to authorities.

Boddenberg said Hessian authorities had already started flagging “cases worthy of examination” in the Pandora Papers data, which includes the names of hundreds of political figures, royals, pop stars, sports stars and criminals.

“If there are indications of tax crime, we will follow them up with all the means available to us,” Boddenberg said. “We have already informed all federal states and the federal government about the purchase of the Pandora Papers. Investigators from all over Germany and other EU countries can now contact [us] with inquiries.”

ICIJ’s Pandora Papers investigation was published in October 2021 in collaboration with more than 600 reporters working at 150 media outlets in 117 countries.

Boddenberg highlighted Hesse’s previous work investigating Panama Papers data. Governments around the world have now recouped more than $1.36 billion in back taxes and penalties based on ICIJ’s 2016 Panama Papers investigation.

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The Hesse purchase comes just weeks after Britain’s tax authority gave taxpayers named in the Pandora Papers a deadline to settle their outstanding tax debts, or risk harsh penalties. On June 5, HM Revenue & Customs began sending letters to hundreds of U.K. residents implicated in the ICIJ investigation. It is not clear what data HMRC has used to underpin its Pandora Papers probe.

The Pandora Papers investigation revealed the secret deals and hidden assets of more than 330 politicians and high-level public officials in more than 90 countries and territories, including 35 country leaders. Ambassadors, mayors and ministers, presidential advisers, generals and a central bank governor appeared in the files.

ICIJ’s trove of documents spans five decades, with most created between 1996 and 2020. It includes information on more than 29,000 beneficial owners, the ultimate owners of offshore assets. That is more than twice the number of owners found five years ago in the Panama Papers investigation, which was based on a leak from a single law firm.

ICIJ has added more than 25,000 offshore entities’ records from the Pandora Papers to its Offshore Leaks Database, including details on owners, shareholders, directors and more.

The source of the Pandora Papers data remains anonymous. ICIJ does not comment on its sources. ICIJ did not pay for the data and no conditions were attached to it being shared with the group of journalists. ICIJ performed rigorous verification and cross-checking of the data to ensure its authenticity, and verified every fact published in the Pandora Papers’ stories.

ICIJ is dedicated to ensuring all reports we publish are accurate. If you believe you have found an inaccuracy let us know.