Appleby ‘Paradise Papers’ unveiled
Secret files from Bermudian-founded law firm Appleby dubbed the “Paradise Papers” were released yesterday by an international group of journalists.
The massive global investigation, involving hundreds of journalists around the world, looked into the offshore activities of some of the world's most powerful people and companies, including the Queen.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 95 media partners explored 13.4 million leaked files from offshore law firms and company registries in offshore jurisdictions.
About half of the documents — 6.8 million — came from a cyberattack on Appleby files.
The Appleby files, hacked last year, were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the ICIJ.
The Paradise Papers include nearly seven million loan agreements, financial statements, e-mails, trust deeds and other paperwork spanning nearly 50 years from inside Appleby, which from its Bermuda beginnings in the 19th century now operates a string of offices around the world.
The ICIJ said the leaked documents include files from the smaller, Singapore-based family-owned trust company Asiaciti and from company registries in 19 “secrecy jurisdictions”.
The group added that the Paradise Papers reveal the offshore interests and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, including the Queen, whose private estate indirectly made a small investment in a UK rent-to-own loan company accused of predatory tactics.
The papers showed that the Queen had about $13 million of her private money invested offshore.
The cash was put into funds in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands by the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the Queen with an income and handles investments for her £500 million private estate.
About $6.53 million was invested in the Bermudian-based Jubilee Absolute Return Fund between 2004 and 2010, when the fund was ended.
Income from the Duchy of Lancaster is not subject to UK tax, but the Queen has voluntarily paid tax since 1993 and it has not been suggested the Duchy of Lancaster broke the law. At least 13 allies, major donors and Cabinet members of United States President Donald Trump also appear, including commerce secretary Wilbur Ross's interests in a shipping company that makes millions from an energy firm whose owners include Russian President Vladimir Putin's son-in-law and a sanctioned Russian tycoon.
The documents reveal Appleby administered about 50 companies and partnerships in the Caymans and elsewhere linked to Mr Ross.
The leaked files from Appleby also include details of tax planning by nearly 100 multinational corporations, including Apple, Nike and Uber.
The ICIJ said it and its media partners would publish a series of stories this week.
These include stories on strategies used by multinational corporations to shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions; and a look into the world of private jets and yachts registered by wealthy owners in offshore tax havens and others that look behind the huge offshore trust funds held by the rich and powerful.
The ICIJ added it had evidence of how prominent political donors in the US make use of offshore financial structures. The group said it would also publish data connected to the Paradise Papers investigation in the coming weeks on its offshore leaks database.
The ICIJ, however, admitted that conducting business offshore was not necessarily illegal and that there were legitimate reasons for offshore activity.
A spokeswoman for the Bermuda Government said it was aware of fresh reports on the 2016 multi-site cyberattack on Appleby's global network.
She said: “We note much of the narrative concerns foreign nationals in other jurisdictions.”
The spokeswoman added: “The Government takes these matters extremely seriously and is reviewing developments with all parties concerned, including the relevant international authorities.
“Bermuda consistently ranks as a global leader in tax and transparency, and has tax treaties with more than 100 governments.”
David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, said: “We maintain high vigilance on any and all criminal activities, including cyber, as well as requiring leading standards on tax and transparency of all who do business here.
“We will not tolerate non-compliance in any of these areas, and are reviewing this incident and related matters, and will take any further action as required.”
No one from Appleby could be contacted for comment yesterday and websites connected to the company were down.
But an earlier statement after the cyberattack was revealed said: “We take any allegation of wrongdoing, implicit or otherwise, extremely seriously.
“Appleby operates in highly regulated jurisdictions and like all professional organisations in our regions, we are subject to frequent regulatory checks and we are committed to achieving the high standards set by our regulators.
“We are also committed to the highest standards of client service and confidentiality. It is what we stand for.
“This commitment is unequivocal.
“Appleby has thoroughly and vigorously investigated the allegations and we are satisfied that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients.
“We refute any allegations which may suggest otherwise and we would be happy to co-operate fully with any legitimate and authorised investigation of the allegations by the appropriate and relevant authorities.
“We are a law firm which advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business. We do not tolerate illegal behaviour.”
But the firm added: “It is true that we are not infallible. Where we find that mistakes have happened we act quickly to put things right and we make the necessary notifications to the relevant authorities.”