Millions of leaked emails and other documents have brought some of the darkest financial secrets of the world’s wealthiest people to light. The documents, which span the past 30 years, reveal the misuse of offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, Switzerland, and the Cook Islands by everyone from American doctors and Wall Street investors to Greek villagers and the families of notorious dictators and despots. According to the report, a good chunk of the money that was invested secretly across international borders included the proceeds of financial crimes such as Ponzi schemes.
Sample offshore owners named in the leaked files include:
• Jean-Jacques Augier, François Hollande's 2012 election campaign co-treasurer, launched a Caymans-based distributor in China with a 25% partner in a BVI company. Augier says his partner was Xi Shu, a Chinese businessman.
• Mongolia's former finance minister. Bayartsogt Sangajav set up "Legend Plus Capital Ltd" with a Swiss bank account, while he served as finance minister of the impoverished state from 2008 to 2012. He says it was "a mistake" not to declare it, and says "I probably should consider resigning from my position".
• The president of Azerbaijan and his family. A local construction magnate, Hassan Gozal, controls entities set up in the names of President Ilham Aliyev's two daughters.
• The wife of Russia's deputy prime minister. Olga Shuvalova's husband, businessman and politician Igor Shuvalov, has denied allegations of wrongdoing about her offshore interests.
•A senator's husband in Canada. Lawyer Tony Merchant deposited more than US$800,000 into an offshore trust.
He paid fees in cash and ordered written communication to be "kept to a minimum".
• A dictator's child in the Philippines: Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, a provincial governor, is the eldest daughter of former President Ferdinand Marcos, notorious for corruption.
• Spain's wealthiest art collector, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former beauty queen and widow of a Thyssen steel billionaire, who uses offshore entities to buy pictures.
• US: Offshore clients include Denise Rich, ex-wife of notorious oil trader Marc Rich, who was controversially pardoned by President Clinton on tax evasion charges. She put $144m into the Dry Trust, set up in the Cook Islands.
It's estimated that more than $20 trillion acquired by wealthy individuals could lie in offshore accounts. The UK-controlled British Virgin Islands has been the most successful among the mushrooming secrecy havens that cater for them.
Among the key findings in the report:
Many of the world’s top’s banks -- including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank -- have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways.
The size of the leaked files in gigabytes, is more than 160 times larger than the leak of U.S. State Department documents by Wikileaks in 2010. Eighty-six journalists from 46 countries sifted through the files, emails, account ledgers, and other documents covering nearly 30 years using high-tech data crunching and shoe-leather reporting.