A figure skating champion, a racecar driver, Hatian businessmen, and tax-dodging billionaires were all featured in reporting by North American journalists working on the Pandora Papers, a journalistic collaboration spanning the globe. The project was spearheaded by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which obtained the trove of more than 11.9 million confidential files. Key to the effort were hundreds of journalists from 150 news outlets in dozens of countries that partnered with ICIJ over two years reporting on the files.
The Pandora Papers is the largest-ever leak of documents from offshore havens, and the project landed with immediate impact around the world, where national leaders and tax agencies vowed investigations and other action. In many cases, it was ICIJ’s reporting partners who did the deepest digging in their own countries.
Here’s some of the most notable reporting of ICIJ’s partners in North America:
In Canada, a figure skating champion and a Formula 1 Driver
CBC News reported on the offshore links of two major sporting figures: racecar driver Jacques Villeneuve and figure skating champion Elvis Stojko.
The only Canadian to win a Formula 1 championship, Villeneuve has lived lavishly in Monaco and Switzerland during most of his career. He lived in Quebec in the 1990s and from 2007 to 2013, according to CBC News. A review of the Pandora Papers show he had “offshore companies set up in zero-tax jurisdictions from the start of his career, back in 1992,” according to CBC News. These companies were set up to receive racing and endorsement income, according to the report.
CBC News also reported on the offshore connections of Stojko, who gained a reputation for flashy performances at the Olympics and became a top world champion. CBC News reports that his Canadian assets were in some cases transferred into an offshore trust in the Caribbean in 2007, while he was living in Mexico. “Skate Canada, an organization that receives public funding, signed off on the transaction,” according to CBC News.
In response to questions from CBC News, Stojko said that he relied on his lawyer to manage his finances, and had “no real involvement or interest” in any of it. “When my longtime lawyer recommended that I set up a trust … I did not question his advice, and I trusted him to act in a manner which was both in my best interests and in compliance with the law,” Stojko told CBC News. Skate Canada declined to comment to CBC News.
“30,000 high explosive mortar shells”
Reporters at the Toronto Star dug deep on the business dealings linked to Chadi Chaarani, a Lebanese-Canadian who says he has an impeccable reputation gained through doing business in Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The Star used Pandora Papers files to help unpack a complex and dramatic story around Chaarani — involving an offshore company linked to a Saudi military official and a U.S. defense contractor, a Serbian arms manufacturer, and a Bulgarian whistleblower — that is still unfolding.
That company, Larkmont Holdings Ltd., “played a key role in transporting roughly 30,000 high explosive mortar shells from a Serbian arms manufacturer in 2018,” according to the Star, which cited a review of shipping records. The final destination of those weapons remains a point of contention and the matter has made its way to Bulgarian courts, facing Chaarani with growing international scrutiny. Bulgarian media previously reported that the weapons ended up “in the hands of Islamic State group fighters in Yemen rather than their legally declared end user, the Saudi Arabian military,” the Star reported.
Charani told the Star that he could not comment on the allegations because they are before the courts in Bulgaria. In a lawsuit against he Bulgarian journalist who first published the ISIS allegations, Charani vigorously denied involvement in the alleged arms dealings.
The Washington Post spotlights billionaires in the data
ICIJ found 130 billionaires who appeared on the Forbes list of billionaires are listed as “owners or beneficiaries of offshore assets” in the Pandora Papers. At least a dozen more figures ranked as billionaires by different media outlets emerged in the files also, according to the Washington Post.
The documents shed new light on the financial maneuvers of “exceptionally wealthy people, their yachts and jets, their inheritance planning and the other ways companies created in tax or secrecy havens benefit them,” the Post reported.
Pandora Papers records reviewed by the Post shed new light on offshore activities of U.S. billionaires Robert Brockman and Robert F. Smith. Both men are accused of involvement in a massive tax scheme. Last year, prosecutors indicted Brockman for allegedly hiding $2 billion in income using a series of shell companies. He pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Smith signed an agreement with prosecutors admitting he had hidden profits in offshore accounts and filed false tax returns for a decade, according to the Post. Smith declined to comment to the Post.
The Post also reviewed Pandora Papers documents relating to Bernard Arnault, one of the world’s richest men and the head of LVMH, a luxury goods firm. His company owned Symphony Yachting Ltd., a British Virgin Islands company, according to the Washington Post’s review of the Pandora Papers. Renault is a French citizen. Symphony Yachting owned a $50 million yacht, according to the Post’s reporting. The boat “fits the description of the Amadeus, a 230-foot vessel described as having a jacuzzi, gym and cinema,” according to the Post. “Arnault reportedly later moved on to another, even more luxurious yacht, the Symphony, a six-deck 300-footer with a glass-bottom swimming pool,” according to the Post. LVMH did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment.
The Miami Herald digs into Haiti’s richest people
Reporters at the Miami Herald dug deep into the use of offshore shell companies by some of Haiti’s richest and most powerful citizens. The reporting provides new details on the far-reaching business empire of Gilbert Bigio, a Haitian business magnate living in Florida who recently purchased Jeffrey Epstien’s Mercedes sedan for $132,000 at an estate sale, according to the Herald.
The Herald’s reporting shows that the Bigios family has used different offshore providers over the years. Pandora documents show the formation in 2001 of a Bigios-controlled company called Lockver Investment Inc. in the British Virgin Islands, administered with the help of Panamanian firm ALCOGAL, according to the Herald. “By 2006, the documents show ALCOGAL lawyers working on Bigio’s behalf with the Miami office of Spanish institution Banco Santander,” according to the Herald. Another document from 2010 confers power of attorney on Gilbert’s wife and son to open an account at a Swiss bank, according to the Herald.
Bigio did not respond to the Herald’s requests for comment.
The Herald also looked at another Hatian businessman, Rudolph Boulos, whose “pharmaceutical company Pharval in 1996 was involved in a business transaction that led to the inadvertent poisoning of Haitian children with cough medicine tainted with a solvent used in antifreeze.” At least 30 children died as a result, according to the Herald.
Boulos did not respond to emailed requests for comment from the Herald.
Pandora Papers programs to stream
PBS’s investigative documentary program, FRONTLINE, brings U.S. viewers to a yacht-filled shoreline in Monaco, to delve into the Pandora Papers’ exploration on the enormous wealth of people in the close orbit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The program looks at reporting by the Washington Post and the Guardian into the apparent riches of Putin’s alleged former romantic partner, Svetlana Krivonogikh, who in the span of a few years, “acquired a flat in a prestigious compound in her home city of St Petersburg, properties in Moscow, a yacht, and other assets,” according to the reporting. Krivonogikh’s net worth is estimated at $100 million, according to The Guardian.
FRONTLINE also featured ICIJ’s Will Fitzgibbon and the Post’s Debbie Cenziper to delve into their reporting on the trust industry in South Dakota. ICIJ’s joint reporting with the Washington Post on America as a tax haven and religious artifacts looted from Cambodia was also featured on episodes of the Post Reports podcast.
“Un Poco de Contexto,” an original Spotify podcast from Mexico City, produced an eight-part Spanish language series featuring interviews with ICIJ’s Latin American partners on their Pandora Papers reporting.
See more Pandora Papers reporting from North America and stories from your country here.