The Pandora Papers had become the talk of the world, thanks to the coalition of journalists for unearthing the covert wealth and dealings of the global rich and powerful. In what has become the biggest revelation in recent times, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has exposed a ringfence of the current and former world leaders. The revelation had exposed massive financial empires that were hidden from the world and the leak, which comes with millions of files, has become the greatest than its preceding ones.
Dubbed as 'Pandora Papers', the revelations had stunned the globe and triggered an outrage among the people after learning about the secret pile of the wealth of the leaders they elected. The ICIJ, a US-based journalism body, has claimed that the Pandora Papers are the largest investigation in journalism history that had exposed a shadow financial system that benefits the world's most rich and powerful. The ICIJ had obtained 11.9 million confidential documents from 14 separate legal and financial services firms, which the group said offered a sweeping look at an industry that helps the world's ultrawealthy, powerful government officials, and other elites conceal trillions of dollars from tax authorities, prosecutors, and others.
These were the firms hired by wealthy individuals to create offshore structures and trusts on the land of tax havens such as Monaco, Panama, Dubai, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands. Besides exposing the secret offshore business of 35 world leaders including the current and former presidents, prime ministers, and heads of state, the Pandora Papers had also unearthed the secret financial empire that was held by more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, mayors, judges, celebrities, and military generals in more than 90 countries.
The files were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington. The ICIJ had then shared access to the leaked data with global media partners including BBC Panorama, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and Le Monde. Over 600 journalists in 117 countries had involved in this operation of the Pandora Papers. The journalists and the news outlets had spent two years delving into the investigation and eventually released the Pandora Papers by unearthing the financial empires reigned by the rich and powerful.
According to ICIJ, the leaked records had come from 14 offshore service firms from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshores for clients often seeking to keep their financial activities in the shadows. India has got a significant place in the Pandora Papers as over a hundred people who belong to India have been named in the revelations. It has been reported that an estimated $32 trillion may be hidden from being taxed. As the Pandora Papers have been unfolding shocking revelations, let's take a look at some of the Indians who got exposed by the leak.
Some of the high profile Indian figures made to the Pandora Papers are Anil Ambani, legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, fugitive Nirav Modi, Nira Radia, Bollywood actor Jackie Shroff, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Gandhi's family friend Satish Sharma, and Cox and Kings' Ajit Kerkar. The expose has said that Anil Ambani has a web of offshore firms, worth $1.3 billion. It was ironic that Anil Ambani had said in a London court in 2020 that his net worth was zero following a dispute with three Chinese state-controlled banks as the Pandora Papers had exhumed that he owns offshore firms.
The documents had also revealed that Sachin Tendulkar, his wife Anjali Tendulkar, and father-in-law Anand Mehta were the beneficial owners of a company in the British Virgin Islands that was liquidated in 2016, just three months after the Panama Papers expose. However, Sachin's attorney has said that the former cricketer's investment is legitimate and has been declared to tax authorities. Sachin is yet to publicly comment on the matter and fugitive Nirav Modi and his sister Purvi Modi were on the Pandora Papers and the expose has said that Purvi Modi had reported to have set up an offshore trust just a month before her brother fled India to evade the legal charges of corruption, money laundering, fraud, and breach of contract.
John Shaw, the Indian businessman and husband of Biocon promoter Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, has also been named in the leak and he has set up a trust and appointed a person, who was banned by SEBI for insider trading, as its in-charge. The Indian Express, which was among the 140 media organizations working on the Pandora Papers, has said that the names of more Indians involved in tax evasion using the prospect of tax havens will be revealed in the coming days. Some of the global figures in the Pandora Papers include the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, King of Jordan Abdullah, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya, Ecuador, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and senior ministers of Imran Khan's cabinet in Pakistan.
In its report, the ICIJ has said, "The Pandora Papers provide more than twice as much information about the ownership of offshore companies. In all, the new leak of documents reveals the real owners of more than 29,000 offshore companies. The owners come from more than 200 countries and territories, with the largest contingents from Russia, the UK, Argentina, and China." The findings by ICIJ and its media partners spotlight how deeply secretive finance has infiltrated global politics and offer insights into why governments and global organizations have made little headway in ending offshore financial abuses.
The Pandora Papers had shown that the world leaders, celebrities, and businessmen had built a secret financial empire in the islands of the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, and Seychelles and in the countries including Vietnam, Belize, and Singapore. The ICIJ had reported that the Pandora Papers investigation had uncovered the covert owners of offshore companies, incognito bank accounts, private jets, mansions, yachts, and even artworks by Picasso.
The history of leaks:
Before the Pandora Papers, the world had seen several leaks that were in the fashion of uncovering the iceberg of the hidden financial empire. In 2013, Offshore Leaks had exposed the covert wealth and dealings of the global bigheads with 2.5 million files. Three years later, in 2016, the Panama Papers had shaken the world through its findings with 11.5 million files. Panama Papers were called the most significant offshore leak, which consisted of 2.6 terabytes of data leaked from the law firm Mossack Fonseca.
In 2017, the Paradise Papers were released with 13.4 million files, most of which were from the offshore provider Appleby, which was founded in Bermuda. In total, the Paradise Papers had consisted of 1.4 terabytes of data. Now, four years later, the Pandora Papers were made global by throwing more weight to its preceding leaks. Containing 2.94 terabytes and 11.9 million files, the Pandora Papers is the largest of the three leaks. Of these 11.9 million files, 6,406,119 were documents, 2,937,513 were images, 1,205,716 were emails, 4,67,405 were spreadsheets, and 8,86,923 were other files.