Pandora Papers Shed Light on Shady Financial Dealings

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Ben Haskett, Reporter

Over 600 journalists, reporting from 117 countries, have compiled and published the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) fourth report on high-level financial secrecy and unethical practices. This leak, titled the Pandora Papers, is the largest yet, encompassing 11.9 million files, the equivalent of 2.9 terabytes of data. 

The massive trove of information revealed the offshore holdings of several prominent politicians and even celebrities like Shakira and Elton John, but also shed light on monarchs, heads of state, and major business leaders. However, the majority of people named in the Pandora Papers are not actually accused of any legal transgressions. Instead, the papers attempt to expose unethicality, as well as increasing financial transparency in previously murky sectors. For example, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is outspoken against corruption, was found to be using an offshore network in order to buy upscale properties in London. This is not illegal in any way, and does not necessarily indicate wrongdoing, but the finding still raises questions as to why Zelensky was attempting to keep these purchases secret. This is the case with most people listed in the report, and at present, no major legal ramifications have transpired as a result of their publishing. 

In addition to identifying individuals and corporations, the Pandora Papers have also exposed tax havens across the globe. A tax haven can be a nation, territory, or jurisdiction, with a low tax burden and often strong secrecy laws to protect company owners. Well-known tax havens such as Singapore, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands were mentioned frequently, but a newly identified haven, South Dakota, is unusual due to its location within the U.S. Vast amounts were found to be held by powerful individuals and firms in South Dakotan trusts, including companies with histories of human rights abuses. Although no crimes are being committed, lawmakers and citizens in the state were quick to question whether these are the type of business practices they wish to allow in their state. 

Due to its massive size, news surrounding the Pandora Papers will likely continue to pour out for several weeks, but this does not mean it will cause any major changes. Because the report largely exposes secrecy, unethicality, and hypocrisy, it does not have as much potential for legal or political ramifications, but it continues the journalistic tradition of investigating those in power and disseminating findings to the public. Work for another ICIJ report is reportedly already underway, but it may take several years to complete because it will likely be even larger and more revealing than the Pandora Papers.