Even Britain’s offshore financial industry is finding it harder to keep secrets these days.
The identities of thousands of people with fortunes hidden in accounts, mainly in the British Virgin Islands, have been exposed – or are about to be. Their loss of innocence, so to speak, comes thanks to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based in Washington.
The Guardian newspaper, which worked with the ICIJ, cites an estimate that the equivalent of 25 trillion euros could be hoarded away in banks that ask few questions.
The ICIJ project, involving a collaborative network of international media partners, says it has begun to jointly publish the findings of scores of journalists working in 170 countries. They are reported to have combed through data in more than two million emails and other documents.
Among the first to be outed are Jean-Jacques Augier, French co-treasurer of the president’s 2012 election campaign; this may prove particularly vexing in the current climate of political shame following the discrediting of the budget minister, who quit because he lied about his own hidden stash.
Who is on the leaked list?
Jean-Jacques Augier, co-treasurer of French President François Hollande’s election campaign
Bayartsogt Sangajav, former finance minister of Mongolia
President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and his two daughters
Spanish art collector Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza
Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, daughter of former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos
Lawyer Tony Merchant, husband of a Canadian senator, Pana Merchant
Olga Shuvalova, wife of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov
Another whose naming may cause special discomfort is Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Spanish art collector and billionairess steel widow; many less fortunate Spaniards are having trouble paying the bills these days, and the royals themselves are being dragged through an embezzlement trial.
But ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle said the offshore industry does not only draw its clients from the world’s super-wealthy, but “…also from everyday professionals from all around the world.”
Spare a thought for all the accountants and firms which help make this possible.
Ryle said the clients include: “American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers, as well as Russian corporate executives, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Wall Street fraudsters, international arms dealers and families and associates of long-time dictators.”
The offshore industry, the ICIJ said, allows the wealthy to avoid taxes, fuels corruption and significantly inflames economic difficulties in both poor nations and rich nations.