ICIJ’s investigative series on offshore secrecy – which draws from a cache of 2.5 million secret records – has ignited reactions around the globe.
Since the initial release of stories by the ICIJ and its media partners across the world, public officials have issued statements, governments have launched investigations, and politicians and journalists have been debating the implications of the records and the reporting.
Among the latest reactions and responses:
- Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov is moving his offshore assets back to Russia after ICIJ’s revelations that Shuvalov’s wife Olga Shuvalova was either a shareholder or owner of several secretive offshore entities. The Shuvalovs had a declared income of $12.7 million in 2011, most of which was earned by Olga.
- Spanish political party Unión Progreso y Democracia submitted written questions to the Spanish Congress today in the wake of French president François Hollande’s announcement that French banks had to declare their tax haven subsidiaries. The questions read: Is the government going to present in the European institutions any initiative to eradicate the tax havens within the Member States? and Is the government going to force banks to disclose the subsidiaries they have in tax havens and what are their activities?
- French president François Hollande called for “eradication” of the world’s tax havens and told French banks they must declare all of their subsidiaries. He also announced the creation of a special prosecutor to pursue cases of corruption and tax fraud. French government ministers have been ordered to declare their assets publicly within days.
- Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker announced his country plans to lift bank secrecy rules for European Union citizens who have savings based in the country, ending decades of bank secrecy in Luxembourg. “We are following a global movement,” Juncker told parliament in a state-of-the-nation address. The new transparency regime would begin in January 2015. Austria is now the only EU country not sharing data about bank depositorecent interview, Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Spindelegger Fekter said: “How much money someone has in the bank is a matter between the bank and the customer and is no one else’s business.”
- Europe’s five biggest economic powers — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — announced they would begin regularly exchanging banking and tax information as a way of identifying tax dodgers and other financial wrongdoers.
- Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) authorities are not fans of the ICIJ investigation. The BVI premier and Finance Minister Orlando Smith told the South China Morning Post that “BVI authorities are actively investigating how this private information has been illicitly obtained and used to attack the BVI financial services industry, which operates compliantly within international guidelines and the law.”
- Athens’ district attorney Panayota Fakou has started a preliminary probe to find out if Greeks who own offshore companies unearthed by the ICIJ investigation have evaded taxes or laundered money. According to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, prosecutors will send information requests to British Virgin Islands’ financial authorities asking them to turn over records of 107 entities connected to Greek citizens.
An investigation by Finnish State Televisionand ICIJ exposing the offshore connections of state-owned postal company Itella has been received with surprise by the Finnish Finance Minister, Jutta Urpilainen. The minister said that “state owned companies should be an example for other companies. That is why it is especially unacceptable that Itella owns a company in a tax haven.” Urpilainen said the Finnish government should adopt clear rules on the use of offshore jurisdictions by state-owned corporations and called tax havens “one of the biggest threats to the Finnish welfare state.”
- Canada’s national revenue minister Gail Shea says the government may pursue the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in court to force it to share the offshore leaks records.
- Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has declared that neither she, nor any other elected officials in her government have dealings in the offshore world. Marois also supported the handover of internal documents to Canadian authorities, stating the Quebec government would not hesitate to use “all legal means” to ensure this.
- French budget minister Bernard Cazeneuve joins the clamor from governments around the globe in urging ICIJ and its media partners to release the offshore tax haven files to them, to “aid justice and help them do their job.” Le Monde‘s response: “It is up to the justice system to establish responsibilities at a time when the law might have been broken … It is up to the press to enlighten the reader…”
- Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann says he is ready to make concessions on banking secrecy, to bring the nation in step with Switzerland and Luxembourg. “Austria should participate in talks on banking secrecy,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann declared to Die Presse.
- The European Commissioner for Taxation, Algirdas Šemeta, called for an automatic exchange of information between countries and a “tough common stance.” “Recent developments, fuelled by the outcome of the Offshore Leaks, confirms the urgency for more and better action against tax evasion …. Now it is time to put words into action.” He said he was “very pleased” to see many of the Member States reviewing where they stand on the issues and “intensifying their political will to act.”
- The Swiss government has distinguised itself from other world governments by publicly stating it does not want access to the offshore leaks records. Finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to curb fraud and tax evasion and that much of the activity pointed to in the leaked documents can be perfectly legal. She says the Swiss government does not want access to the data as “it was acquired illegally and Bern wants no part of that”.
- The Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government probe into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands, will release its report within two weeks. “We are duty bound to investigate and, depending upon informed preliminary findings, decide whether to pursue the matter,” said Andres Bautista, the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, tasked with recovering the Marcos family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
- The president of the Association of German Banks denied that his group’s members had helped customers engage in tax evasion. “First in line are the individuals and the organizations that invest their money in tax oases,” Andreas Schmitz said.“
- The Berne internal revenue service authorities announced they will re-open the Gunter Sachs case after ICIJ’s revelations about the former Mr. Brigitte Bardot’s intricate offshore scheme.
- In Canada, a Liberal senator urged his caucus colleague, Senator Pana Merchant, to answer questions in the wake of CBC News and ICIJ reports that she has been listed as beneficiary of an offshore trust created by her husband, a well-known class-action attorney. “We’re all innocent until proven guilty in this country, but I want to hear her explanation,” Senator Percy Downe told CBC News in an interview.
- In the Philippines, two lawmakers dismissed a report by an ICIJ media partner, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), that they had offshore holdings. Senator Manuel Villar said his offshore entity was a “1-dollar shell company” that he wasn’t required to report, because he hadn’t made any real investment in it. Villar said that he hadn’t conducted business with the British Virgin Islands company “because I decided to concentrate in the Philippines.” Congressman Joseph Victor ‘JV’ G. Ejercito suggested the story about him was politically motivated. “To the best of my knowledge, I have truthfully and accurately declared all my assets, liabilities, and net worth” on required disclosures forms for public officials, he said in a statement.
- Germany’s Economics Minister Philipp Rösler urged the media to pass the data on to the government, stressing that tax evasion was a “criminal act.”
- Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Luc Frieden says he is open to greater transparency of its banks in order to cooperate further with foreign tax authorities.
- The Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said an inquiry had been initiated by the authorities against individuals whose names figured in the global media report. “Yes. We have taken note of the names and inquiries have been put in motion in respect of the names that have been exposed,” he told a press conference.
- The Mongolian Deputy Speaker, Sangikav Bayartsogt, admitted to an “ethics failure” over his undeclared million-dollar Swiss bank account. He told a press conference: “It is true that there is 1,658 Euros or 2.9 million MNT in a Swiss bank account. I opened the account to trade in international stocks with three other acquaintances in 2008. My failure of responsibility is that I did not include the company in my declaration of income. I have admitted my ethic failure and I am ready to take responsibility.”
- Philippine government officials said they will investigate evidence that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, a provincial governor and daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was the beneficiary of a secret BVI offshore trust.
- George Mavraganis, the Deputy Finance Minister of Greece announced that the Greek government is moving to address offshore-driven tax dodging. Greek members of parliament asked Mavraganis what he planned to do about the 103 offshore companies that ICIJ found hadn’t been registered with Greece’s tax authorities.
- George Sourlas from Greece’s Ministry of Justice said the revenue loss caused by offshore was huge. “By the actions of offshore companies in Greece, the revenue loss to the Greek government is in the order of 40% or more of the debt of our country,” Sourlas said. “The offshore companies cast a shadow at this time of great crisis, when some get rich and many get poor.”
- In France, President Francois Hollande denied knowledge of the offshore accounts held by his 2012 campaign manager, Jean-Jacques Augier, asserting that it’s up to the tax administration to monitor Augier’s private activities. Reports about Augier’s offshore dealings by Le Monde, the BBC and other ICIJ partners came in the wake of news about tax fraud charges against Hollande’s ex-budget Minister, Jerome Cahuzac.
- The office of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev asserted there was nothing unusual about the information in the leak – which showed that his two daughters were shareholders of three offshore companies. The statement said the President’s daughters “are grown up and have the right to do business.” A spokesperson for Azersun – a holding company controlled by Hasan Gozal, a corporate mogul who was listed as the director of the daughters’ companies – said the report was biased and based on inaccurate information. “I regret that authority of Press Council doesn’t go beyond Azerbaijan and there is no such institution worldwide to fight racketeer journalists,” the spokesman said.
- Ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez publicly defended his sons’ involvement in offshore business. Uribe stated that his sons Tomás and Jerónimo are entrepreneurs and “have participated in business dealings since they were children” and “they are not tax evaders.”
- In the UK, David Cameron is facing renewed pressure to take action over Britain’s entanglements within the offshore world. Lord Oakeshott, a senior Liberal Democrat said that the secrecy haven of the British Virgin Islands “stains the face of Britain.” Oakeshott and others are questioning whether Cameron will raise the issue in June of at the G8 summit of wealth nations. “How can David Cameron keep a straight face calling for the G8 to make big business pay tax when we let the BVI use British law and British protection to suck in billions in dirty money?” Oakeshott asked.
- German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble stated on public radio that he was “pleased” with the ICIJ reports. He went on to say, “I think that such things as have been made known will increase the pressure internationally, and we will be able to increase the cooperation with those who have been more reticent”, a sentiment reflected in Germany’s previous lobbying to stamp out tax avoidance.
- Canadian Federal Revenue Minister Gail Shea called the released of offshore banking information as “good news” for Canadians and bad news for tax evaders. Ms. Shea urged ICIJ or anyone else with information on tax cheats to come forward.
- Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, said: “Secrecy is no longer acceptable. We need to get rid of it. If the rules make it possible, then we’ll change the rules.”