Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tracking the tax-cheats

Back in April, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists began their series on offshore secrets, investigating the global tax-cheating industry. The series was based on an enormous leak, a database covering a decade of operations of tax-cheating companies in the British Virgin islands, Cook Islands, and other tax havens. And now the ICIJ have stuck the ownership details extracted from that database online:

Readers can search information about the ownership of more than 100,000 offshore entities in tax havens and discover the networks around them.


The Offshore Leaks Database allows users to search through more than 100,000 secret companies, trusts and funds created in offshore locales such as the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands and Singapore. The Offshore Leaks web app, developed by La NaciĆ³n newspaper in Costa Rica for ICIJ, displays graphic visualizations of offshore entities and the networks around them, including, when possible, the company’s true owners.

Its impossible to overstate how important this is. The entire tax-cheat industry relies on secrecy about who owns (and therefore who owes) what. Now that's been blown open. I expect some very rich people are going to be getting some very expensive visits from the tax office as a result.

The database is available here (oddly with a disclaimer saying that not everyone who uses offshore entities is a tax cheat - some are just criminals and spies instead). Searching it for new Zealand turns up 11 officers and master clients (including HSBC bank and Masterfoods), 19 offshore entities, and a staggering 189 addresses for people nominally running these scam-companies (as it is a bit of an industry here). Hopefully the IRD will be paying a few of them a visit.