A massive leak of financial documents appears to reveal that many of US President Donald Trump's advisers, members of his cabinet, and donors hold accounts in offshore tax havens. Those individuals include US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Trump's ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, among others, according to reports.
The leaked documents also show that Trump's commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, retained business investments with a Russian shipping company with ties to a Russian oligarch subject to US sanctions, and Vladimir Putin's son-in-law, according to the New York Times.
The massive leak of 13.4 million financial documents also paints a picture of how the world's most powerful individuals and companies — from the Queen of England to Apple — use and benefit from offshore tax havens.
The documents, obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, come a year after the Panama Papers similarly revealed the inner workings of offshore tax havens. As with the Panama Papers, Süddeutsche Zeitung handed over the 1.4 terabytes of data to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which then distributed the documents to around 100 media outlets around the world.
"Many of the stories focus on how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals use complex structures of trusts, foundations and shell companies to protect their cash from tax officials or hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy," wrote the BBC, one of the media outlets that received documents from the ICIJ.
The leaks are believed to contain the offshore dealings of more than 120 politicians around the world.
The first published reports of the leaks on Sunday revealed that millions of pounds of the Queen of England's private estate were invested in a Cayman Islands fund, the Guardian reported. The BBC reported that there is "nothing illegal in the investments" and there is "no suggestion that the Queen is not paying tax," but "questions may be asked about whether the monarch should be investing offshore."
Meanwhile, the Guardian also reported that "Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner."
A close adviser of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also in the papers, and is thought to have "engaged through his family investment business in a complex web of entities in the US, Israel and the Cayman Islands," the Guardian wrote.
More than half of the documents were leaked from the law firm Appleby. Founded in Bermuda, which has a corporate tax rate of zero, Appleby sets up trusts, companies, and other entities for its clients in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands — areas that have low or zero corporate tax rates.
While not illegal, critics say offshore banking allows individuals and organizations to evade public scrutiny. Critics also say offshore tax havens solely benefit wealthy individuals and multinational corporations by allowing them to legally avoid paying taxes in ways ordinary citizens cannot.
"We are a law firm which advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business. We do not tolerate illegal behaviour,” Appleby said in a statement, adding that "there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients.”
Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2
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