'Offshore Leaks' list puts focus on prominent figures worldwide
Government reactions have been cautious after international media published a list of alleged tax evaders. Though the world gets a glimpse of the finances of the wealthiest, it remains unclear who broke the law.
The last note on the list of alleged tax dodgers published by the British daily The Guardian on Thursday reiterated that having an offshore account was not a crime.
"It is not suggested that any of those listed here have behaved unlawfully," the newspaper wrote, referring to the international figures it had named in its "profiles of leading secret account holders."
"Offshore entities can be held legitimately: The only aspect those listed below have in common is that they have used a jurisdiction which provides them with secrecy."
The people listed included politicians, businessmen and their spouses.
The Guardian released the information - known as "Offshore Leaks" - in cooperation with media outlets from 46 countries participating in the international project. The BBC, Washington Post and Le Monde published similar stories on Thursday, as did Germany's daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and its regional public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk.
Journalists across media outlets reportedly spent months examining data leaked from two companies that specialize in setting up offshore accounts and was handed over to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington, D.C. by an anonymous source last year.
The 260 gigabytes of data included around 2.5 million documents, containing the names of 130,000 alleged tax cheats from around 170 countries.
Politicians top first list
Of the thousands of alleged tax cheats from the "Offshore Leaks" documents, the Guardian published information pointing to politicians, most prominently French President Francois Hollande's last campaign manager.
Suspicion of wrongdoing by Jean-Jacques Augier, who managed Hollande's 2012 campaign finances, came on as the French president is battling another political scandal. His former budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, had confessed earlier this week to hiding money in a Swiss bank account.
Augier has said a prominent Chinese businessman acted as co-partner for the offshore firm.
The oldest daughter of a former Philippines dictator and the current president of Azerbaijan also topped the list.
A senior Mongolian politician, who had reportedly had stowed away about $1 million (778,000 euros) in a Swiss bank account, expressed regret over the scandal.
"I shouldn't have opened that account," Mongolia's deputy speaker of Parliament said. "I don't worry about my reputation. I worry about my family," he said, adding that he was considering resigning.
Most of the people listed declined to comment.
Germany hopes to use information
The European Commission called on EU countries to tighten financial regulations following the news of alleged widespread tax dodging. Germany's Federal Finance Ministry appeared to eager to benefit from the "Offshore Leaks" report.
A Finance Ministry spokesperson reportedly said he hoped that "the media with access to the information would provide it to the states," including to Germany, according to the news agency AFP.
Amid reports that banks, including Germany's largest bank Deutsche Bank, had helped its customers hide their money in offshore entities, the president of the Association of German Banks called for a reasonable assessment of the situation.
"Private citizens and organizations are primarily the ones who put their money into offshore accounts," association president Andreas Schmidt said, according to the news agency DPA. Because financial institutions were not authorized to screen customers for tax evasion, said Schmidt, "it isn't right to severely criticize the banks."
kms/rc (AFP, dpa)