The Pandora Papers: The Financial Secrets of the World’s Elite Uncovered

Written by: Amanda Roberts, Associate Editor

In an unprecedented leak of millions of documents, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released the offshore dealings and financial secrets of the world’s richest, including 35 current or former world leaders, 330+ politicians, and public officials across 91 countries.

The United States is a key player in the world of offshore finance due, in part, to the role of the dollar as a de facto global currency and the fact that most international transactions flow through U.S. based banking operations. In addition to this, as of 2020, 17 out of the world’s 20 least-restrictive trust jurisdictions were U.S. states. However, the U.S. remains reluctant to share information about foreigners’ assets and in 2014 refused to join an international agreement supported by other offshore havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg. Despite this, the U.S. has taken action to force banks in other countries to turn over information about the overseas assets of Americans. Such confidentiality in the world of personal finance has detrimental effects.

Sourced from 14 offshore service firms from around the world, the Pandora Papers illuminate a system of secretive finance intertwined with global politics. For example, King Abdullah II of Jordan, one of the poorest Arab countries, has purchased 14 homes worth over $100 million through shell companies meant to obscure illicit financial activity. Jordan relies heavily on international aid and to display his wealth publicly, King Abdullah II would both antagonize his subjects and upset international donors. Even more disconcerting is the almost 30 U.S. trusts liked to foreigners who have either personally, or through their company, been accused of wrongdoings as well as countless other incidents of tax fraud and suspect financial dealings.

Although it is usually not illegal to have offshore assets or use shell companies to conduct international business, their use by political figures can be problematic as such devices can function to keep unpopular, distasteful, or illicit purchases secret from their constituents. This is especially poignant as governments around the world struggle with expensive and controversial issues like overcoming a pandemic and climate change.

Enabled by the United States, this financial system praised for its secrecy has resulted in bent and broken laws around the world. In their introduction to the Pandora Paper series, the ICIJ noted that “[m]any of the power players who could help bring an end to the offshore system instead benefit from it . . . do little to slow a global stream of illicit money that enriches criminals and impoverishes nations.” The full extent of how offshore finances and secretive wealth has infiltrated global politics remains to be seen, but it is clear that their effects are far-reaching, and that the United States will need to play a big role in necessary reform.

Sources:

ICIJ- Offshore havens and hidden riches of world leaders and billionaires exposed in unprecedented leak- Oct. 3, 2021, available at https://www.icij.org/investigations/pandora-papers/global-investigation-tax-havens-offshore/

CNN- Here are 5 takeaways from the Pandora Papers- Oct. 4, 2021, available at https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/04/media/pandora-papers-five-takeaways/index.html

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