From Panama to Paradise: The biggest tax evasion data leaks in history

The Paradise Papers have once again highlighted how the world's wealthy elite skirt paying taxes, whether legally or illegally. DW takes a look at some of the the biggest tax-related data leaks in recent history.

Panama Papers

In 2015, an anonymous source leaked to the Süddeutsche Zeitung a cache of data containing 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonesca. The German newspaper sought the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to sort through the 2.6 terabytes of information — which included emails, financial spreadsheets and corporate records reaching back to 1977 — before the first findings were published in April 2016.

The documents detailed how the firm helped its clients avoid taxes and launder money. Some contained information relating to 214,000 shell companies set up by Mossack Fonesca. The leak implicated prominent politicians and celebrities, including Iceland's then-prime minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who resigned two days after the leak was made public.

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Paradise Papers

On Sunday, reporting on 13.4 million more documents exposing tax avoidance schemes made headlines around the globe. Though the trove is not as large as the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers have continued to expose on how corporations, high-ranking politicians and the super wealthy avoid paying taxes.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung again obtained the data, and the ICIJ once more provided its assistance. The ICIJ has said that 120 politicians from around 50 countries appear in the documents. The most prominent name revealed thus far is Queen Elizabeth II — the papers showed that around 10 million pounds ($13 million, €11.3 million) of her private money was placed in funds held in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, though there was no suggestion of illegal activity.

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Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Bono and Nude Estates

U2 frontman and activist Bono was one of the highest-profile players named in the papers. In an elaborate web of financial transactions, Bono invested in a Maltese company called Nude Estates that was involved in a shady deal over a Lithuanian shopping mall. Malta is famous for its liberal tax policies. A spokesman for the singer denied any wrongdoing.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

US commerce secretary

President Donald Trump's Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was listed in the papers for his interests in the Russian gas company Sibur. Ross has now been accused of failing to disclose his Russian connections to Congress during his confirmation hearing, though Ross has argued that as the company is not one facing US sanctions, he was not obliged to disclose them.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Queen's private estate in hot water

Queen Elizabeth II is provided an income by her private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster. According to the Paradise Papers, the duchy invested 10 million pounds ($13 million) in offshore accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. The estate has said that the investments are legal.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Formula One champion

Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton reportedly avoided taxes on his private jet through an elaborate tax avoidance scheme, according go the Paradise Papers. The leaked documents show that Hamilton received a £3.3 million tax refund in 2013 after his plane was imported to the Isle of Man, a low tax British dependency located off the western coast of England.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Germany's former chancellor

Gerhard Schröder, leader of Germany from 1998 to 2005, was named for his management role at the Russian-British energy firm TNK-BP in 2009. The company was registered in the tax haven British Virgin Islands. In 2013, TNK-BP was bought by Russian energy giant Rosneft — where Schröder is now the independent director of the board.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Colombia's president caught

According to the papers, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is listed as the director of two offshore companies in Barbados. He previously claimed to have severed ties with them in 2000 when he became minister of finance.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Not all of the revelations in the Paradise Papers necessarily detail illegal activity. But they do shed light on some of the strange investments and luxurious possessions of the world's elite, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's yacht. Besides Microsoft, other US companies like Apple, McDonald's, Facebook and Walmart were found to have ties to Appleby.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Madonna medical supplies

One of the odd investments listed in the Paradise Papers is singer Madonna's stake in a medical supply firm. Actress Keira Knightley was also found to have stock in a Jersey-based real-estate firm.

Offshore Leaks

The 2013 "Offshore Leaks" reporting helped to bring the discussion over offshore finances into the public sphere. The ICIJ collaborated with journalists around the world to filter through 260 gigabytes of data, including 2.5 million documents detailing how some wealthy people use tax havens to hide their money from tax authorities.

An unnamed insider told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the leak was "the biggest blow so far to the black hole of the world economy." The most significant name revealed in the documents was Gunther Sachs, a German-born industrialist who the reporting said hid millions in offshore firms in Luxembourg, Panama, the British Virgin Islands and the Cook Islands.

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The LuxLeaks revelations put pressure on Jean-Claude Juncker, then the newly-elected European Commission president

Luxembourg Leaks

In November 2014, an ICIJ report revealed that hundreds of companies worldwide had signed secret deals with Luxembourg to save billions in taxes. The ICIJ reviewed 28,000 pages of leaked documents detailing financial arrangements with the small EU nation, including tax rulings set up by PricewaterhouseCoopers from 2002 to 2010 to the benefit of its clients.

Major companies like Deutsche Bank, Pepsi and Ikea were among those that took advantage of tax avoidance schemes by funneling hundreds of billions of dollars through the country. The "LuxLeaks" piled pressure on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is a former prime minister of Luxembourg.  Two whistleblowers and the journalist who first published the "LuxLeaks" revelations were indicted in Luxembourg, but only the whistleblowers received suspended jail sentences.

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The SwissLeaks scandal exposed a tax evasion controversy involving HSBC

Swiss Leaks

The ICIJ released a report in February 2015 revealing that British bank HSBC Holdings PLC had helped wealthy customers hide millions of dollars in its Swiss subsidiary. Geneva prosecutors opened a money-laundering investigation into the HSBC Private Bank in Switzerland and alleged that €180.6 billion passed through HSBC accounts in Geneva held by clients and offshore companies between November 2006 and March 2007.

The source of the "SwissLeaks" revelation was Herve Falciani, a former IT specialist at HSBC's Swiss branch. Falciani was handed a five-year jail sentence by a Swiss court, but he didn't attend the trial and won't be extradited from France as the country does not extradite its citizens. HSBC paid $40 million to end the money-laundering probe.

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