The Pandora Papers investigation is the world’s largest-ever journalistic collaboration, involving more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries, including Ghana Business News. Coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the investigation is based on a leak of confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that give professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in low- or no-tax jurisdictions. The entities enable owners to conceal their identities from the public and sometimes from regulators. Often, the providers help them open bank accounts in countries with light financial regulation.
The 2.94 terabytes of data, leaked to ICIJ and shared with media partners around the world, arrived in various formats: as documents, images, emails, spreadsheets, and more.
While the Pandora Papers isn’t the first such investigative journalism project to mention or include Ghana, some political actors and public officials have appeared in earlier projects like the Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, West Africa Leaks and FINCen Files. However, there was little interest in the previous publications. Since the break of Pandora Papers, TV stations including the national broadcaster, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation hosted a live conversation on the leaks – that’s unprecedented.
The records in Pandora Papers, however include an unprecedented amount of information on so-called beneficial owners of entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, Panama, South Dakota and other secrecy jurisdictions. They also contain information on the shareholders, directors and officers. In addition to the rich, the famous and the infamous, those exposed by the leak include people who don’t represent a public interest and who don’t appear in our reporting, such as small business owners, doctors and other, usually affluent, individuals away from the public spotlight.
While some of the files date to the 1970s, most of those reviewed by ICIJ were created between 1996 and 2020. They cover a wide range of matters: the creation of shell companies, foundations and trusts; the use of such entities to purchase real estate, yachts, jets and life insurance; their use to make investments and to move money between bank accounts; estate planning and other inheritance issues; and the avoidance of taxes through complex financial schemes. Some documents are tied to financial crimes, including money laundering.
The leak contains routine documents that service providers gather for due diligence — news articles, Wikipedia entries, information from financial data provider World-Check — that don’t necessarily confirm whether a person is hiding wealth in a secrecy jurisdiction. ICIJ used machine learning to tag such files in Datashare, enabling reporters to exclude them from their searches.
Among the information published from Pandora Papers by the ICIJ and partners, are lists of the number of politicians from different countries that were found in the documents. Three Ghanaian politicians are listed. Could this be the reason why interest has soared in Ghana?
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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