With this release information on more than 290,000 companies related to the Paradise Papers will be available in the database, more than from any of our previous leaks.
It means there are now more than 785,000 trusts, companies or funds, and more than 720,000 officers listed in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Offshore Leaks Database.
Last November, ICIJ released data from the offshore law firm Appleby, covering a period of more than six decades through 2014 containing information on entities registered in more than 30 offshore jurisdictions. A month later, ICIJ released additional information from corporate registries from four secrecy jurisdictions that appeared in the Paradise Papers investigation: Barbados, the Bahamas, Aruba and Nevis.
The new data comes from three corporate registries: the Cook Islands, Samoa – a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and one of two jurisdictions that make up the Samoan Islands – and Malta. It is valid until the end of 2016. All of the jurisdictions rank high on the Tax Justice Network’s secrecy index, either on secrecy only or on secrecy weighted by their share of the offshore market.
ICIJ is publishing only information in the public interest. ICIJ is not publishing the entire leak and is not disclosing raw documents or personal information that is not relevant.
The Cook Islands don’t offer an open-access online corporate registry. The information on 1,469 Cook Island entities set to be published was not previously searchable online.
“If you are requiring information on a particular company, just give us the company name, and we will check if it’s on our register, and let you know,” the Financial Supervisory Commission from the Cook Islands told ICIJ’s Spanish partners La Sexta in 2017.
The Cook Islands are among the 24 jurisdictions named in the European Union’s offshore gray list adopted December 2017. Those countries have agreed to amend or abolish unfair or opaque tax regimes in 2018.
Malta does have an online registry but doesn’t allow searches by the names of directors or shareholders. This feature is key to uncovering connections to offshore companies. “Putting the name of directors and legal shareholders in the public domain is an essential first step to transparency,” according to Global Witness.
The Malta registry was at the origin of many Paradise Papers stories. More than 80,000 entities from that registry will be added to the Offshore Leaks database. The small island is often considered to be one of European Union’s tax havens. Despite an official corporate tax rate of 35 percent, companies are taxed at only 5 percent in practice, thanks to generous refunds. A report commissioned by Green Party members of the European Parliament found that Malta helped multinational companies avoid paying 14 billion euros ($18 billion) in taxes in other countries between 2012 and 2015.
ICIJ partners from The Namibian, with help of leaked documents from the law firm Appleby, found that Namibia’s ambassador to Germany, Andreas Guibeb, served as a director of two companies registered in Malta.
Following leads in the Maltese registry, Slovenian partners DELO uncovered how Slovenia’s former director of the national tax office used a Cypriot company to help move assets out of Slovenia.
Also hidden in the Malta records was also the head of Sweden’s largest business lobby. Leif Östling, chairman of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and the former head of the truckmaker Scania, who with his wife owned a Maltese company called Hertsoe Ltd. that held about $3.6 million worth of stock via subsidiaries in Luxembourg, ICIJ partner SVT (Swedish public television) reported. He resignedfollowing the revelations.
Malta was also the tax haven of choice of pop stars Shakira and Bono. The U2 lead singer was a minority shareholder of a Malta-based entity that bought a shopping center in a small town in Lithuania. The company was later transferred to Guernsey, a jurisdiction that doesn’t charge tax on corporate profits. After Lithuanian authorities announced a probe into the company’s business, Bono said that he welcomed the audit and that he has “been assured by those running the company that it is fully tax-compliant,” according to the Guardian. Yet, the Lithuanian company agreed to pay back 53,000 euros ($65,000) as well as a fine, following an investigation into its tax affairs prompted by the Paradise Papers. Bono later announced he had instructed his advisers to end his investment in the company.
As for the Colombian singer Shakira, she was actually using the tiny island of Malta to transfer more than $30 million of music rights, according to Spanish paper El Confidencial. Shakira was listed as the sole shareholder of the Maltese company which, her lawyers told reporters, “fulfills all legal requirements.” The singer is currently under investigation in Spain for tax evasion.