The “Pandora Papers,” published Sunday, could open Pandora’s box for all businesses and organizations found to be entangled in its worldwide web of shell companies, offshore tax havens, and secret trusts. The investigation, led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), features a team of more than 600 journalists from 117 countries and territories that has sifted through 11.9 million confidential leaked documents over the last two years.
If the ICIJ sounds familiar, it’s because it was the same group that brought about the Panama Papers investigation—which similarly revealed a global web of offshore tax havens resulting in regulatory ramifications on a global scale.
“The FinCEN Files revealed money laundering to be a systemic problem, but the Pandora Papers … suggest a much more broken system, where regulators are barely tipping the iceberg in the fight against financial crime,” said Rachel Woolley, global head of financial crime at Fenergo. “The Pandora Papers also reveal a much higher power at play here—governments, the real custodians of the financial system with the authority to drive change from the top.”
Leaked records from the Pandora Papers “include information about the dealings of nearly three times as many current and former country leaders as any previous leak of documents from offshore havens,” the ICIJ stated. The records “uncovered financial secrets of 35 current and former world leaders, more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories, and a global lineup of fugitives, con artists and murderers,” according to the organization.
Exposed among the ICIJ’s reporting of the documents are the offshore dealings of the King of Jordan; the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya, and Ecuador; the prime minister of the Czech Republic; and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The files also detail the financial activities of more than 130 billionaires from the United States, Russia, Turkey, and other nations, according to the ICIJ.
In totality, the Pandora Papers “reveals the real owners of more than 29,000 offshore companies” from more than 200 countries and territories, “with the largest contingents from Russia, the [United Kingdom], Argentina, and China,” the ICIJ said.
For chief compliance officers and chief risk officers, here’s the real kicker: The Pandora Papers show, according to the ICIJ, key players in the offshore system include multinational banks, law firms, and accounting firms headquartered in the United States and Europe.
For example, one document “shows that banks around the world helped their customers set up at least 3,926 offshore companies assisted by Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, a Panamanian law firm led by a former ambassador to the United States,” the ICIJ detailed. According to the investigation, the firm set up at least 312 companies in the British Virgin Islands for clients of Morgan Stanley. Also implicated is law firm Baker McKenzie, among many others.
The Pandora Papers further allege the United States has emerged as a leading tax haven, especially South Dakota, which allegedly shelters “billions of dollars in wealth, some linked to individuals and companies accused of financial crimes or serious wrongdoing,” reported The Guardian, an ICIJ partner. Delaware, Florida, Nevada, and Texas reportedly also have dozens of secret trusts that cater mostly to non-U.S. citizens, The Guardian reported.
Only time will tell what new compliance, legal, and financial implications will result for companies and organizations around the world who are identified by the Pandora Papers, but chief compliance officers should brace for what’s to come.