By Zach Dubinsky, CBC News
Journalist group publishes identities of directors, shareholders and others behind offshore accounts
The public will get a glimpse at the tens of thousands of names — including those of more than 3,000 Canadians and Canadian companies — in the Paradise Papers starting today.
Key information from the huge leak of tax-haven financial records, including the names of offshore companies and the people behind them, is being made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Washington-based group that co-ordinated global reporting on the documents.
"We think this is the kind of basic information that should be made available to people around the world," the ICIJ's director, Gerard Ryle, told CBC News. "And we think it's the kind of information that governments should be releasing, or forcing some sort of public directory. So if they're not going to do it, then it is up to journalists to do it."
The hope is that public scrutiny of the material will turn up tips about possible tax shenanigans or corruption and shed more light on the often murky world of offshore finance. While 380-plus journalists have been delving into the Paradise Papers for months, the leak contains 13.4 million records — a dauntingly large number that made it impossible to examine every file.
CBC/Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star had exclusive Canadian access to the data and determined that it names at least 3,100 Canadians, Canadian companies and other entities like trusts or foundations tied to Canada. Media outlets worldwide first began reporting on the leak last week.
The list includes a who's who of the world's elite, including the Queen, U.S. President Donald Trump's commerce secretary and, here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief fundraiser, Stephen Bronfman.
In the wake of the revelations, Trudeau came under harsh questioning from the opposition parties for several days, and the Canada Revenue Agency announced it was "reviewing links to Canadian entities and will take appropriate action in regards to the Paradise Papers."
The searchable data that the ICIJ is releasing online today comes from offshore law firm Appleby, whose files make up the majority of the Paradise Papers. The records contain:
- The names of everyone Appleby listed as an officer or shareholder of an offshore company.
- The names of more than 90,000 offshore companies, though in many cases cases the true owner is still shrouded in anonymity.
- The identities of some intermediary businesses that help set up and administer offshore accounts.
This information is going into a large database that also contains records from the previous leaks shepherded by the ICIJ, including last year's Panama Papers and the huge 2013 cache of offshore financial records. As in the past, actual documents — emails, bank statements, copies of passports, internal corporate memos, people's phone numbers — will be withheld and only available to the ICIJ's partner journalists.
The CBC and the Star plan to have more stories on the leak, and the people in it, in the days and weeks ahead.
It is not illegal for Canadians to have an offshore account, but any income must be reported to the Canada Revenue Agency for tax purposes, as well as any offshore assets totalling more than $100,000. Offshore jurisdictions like Bermuda, which features prominently in the Paradise Papers, often have strict confidentiality rules for bank accounts and shell companies that make it easier to hide assets from tax authorities.
-With files from Harvey Cashore