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Paradise Papers expose tax schemes of world elite

Rebecca Staudenmaier
November 5, 2017

Reporters have unveiled some 13.4 million secret documents detailing evidence of tax avoidance among high-ranking politicians and the super wealthy. Some in US President Donald Trump's cabinet have been implicated.

Tax havens
Image: Fotolia/Trueffelpix

Some 400 reporters from 67 countries have scoured 13.4 million secret documents and uncovered tax-avoidance techniques used by the super rich and high-ranking politicians, German media reported on Sunday.

The leaked data was obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which said that the majority of the documents stem from offshore law firm Appleby, which was founded in Bermuda but has offices in several other locations. The company reported last month that it had been hacked.

Read moreParadise Papers — what you need to know

The documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers, appear to show ties between members of US President Donald Trump's cabinet and Russian firms.

Shrinking taxes

The documents also show that by using shell companies, corporations such as Nike, Apple, Uber and Facebook are able to shrink their taxes to low rates.

Rock star Bono, as well as British Queen Elizabeth II's private estate, has also been involved in offshore funds, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Over 120 politicians from 47 countries are involved in the tax-avoidance schemes, the paper reported.

Economist Gabriel Zucman told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the global elite have parked an estimated 7.9 trillion euros ($9.1 trillion) in offshore tax havens.

The data was published by a number of news organizations in cooperation with the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Read morePanama Papers: Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif faces graft charges in Pakistan

Trump's Cabinet and Russian links

The leaks expose US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, alleging links with Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest allies. 

"Billionaire Wilbur Ross makes money from business with Russia. That he sits in US President Donald Trump's cabinet does not appear to change that," the Süddeutsche Zeitung said in its report.

Ross is reportedly a major shareholder in an ocean freight company called Navigator, which has contracted more than $68 million through transactions with Russian energy group Sibur since 2014. 

Read moreWhat indictments of former Trump campaign officials mean for the president

In turn, Sibur's biggest shareholders include Putin-ally Leonid Mikhelson, who controls another energy company sanctioned by the US Treasury for its close ties to the Russian president.

Sibur's two other owners include Gennady Timchenko, who is also sanctioned by the US government for his ties to Putin, and Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Putin's youngest daughter.

In addition to Ross, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that over a dozen Trump advisers, cabinet members and campaign donors appear in the leaked data.

German ex-chancellor implicated

Data from the Paradise Papers shows that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had a management role at an offshore company.

In 2009, he was part of a so-called "independent supervisory board" of the Russian-British energy company TNK-BP, the documents show. The joint venture by Britain's BP and Russia's Alfa-Group was based, like many other oil joint-ventures, in the British Virgin Islands.

Read moreRussian money flows into Germany despite sanctions

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
The leaks link former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to an offshore British-Russian energy companyImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. Piermont

Schröder and two others on the board contacted Appleby "about certain procedural company affairs under the laws of the British Virgin Islands," according to an email from a London-based lawyer in October 2011. Appleby declined to offer their services due to a conflict of interest with another client.

Read moreThe Rosneft seat and Gerhard Schröder's Kremlin credentials

In December 2011, Schröder stepped down from his post on the board. In 2013, TNK-PB was taken over by Russian oil giant Rosneft — Schröder was appointed chairman of Rosneft's supervisory board a few weeks ago.

Several German companies also had dealings with Appleby, including car rental service Sixt, Deutsche Post (DHL), Siemens, Allianz and Deutsche Bank.

Panama Papers — the sequel

The Süddeutsche Zeitung was also involved in exposing the so-called Panama Papers leak last year.

The papers were initially leaked to the Süddeutsche Zeitung last year. The Panama Papers consist of some 11.5 million leaked documents implicating individuals stashing their wealth in offshore tax havens.

The documents revealed how Mossack Fonseca had created some 200,000 shell companies and listed the names of individuals, including politicians, celebrities and athletes, who had hidden their wealth in those companies.

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