The offshore leaks saga has offered a mindboggling insight into the murky world of global tax havens and the individuals involved. DW talked to journalist David Leigh, who is part of the ICIJ investigation.
DW: Describe for us how the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists works and whether it models itself on WikiLeaks?
David Leigh: ICIJ was a pioneer in the field of cross-border collaborative journalism and they've been going for more than 10 years now. So they come much earlier than WikiLeaks and the development of non-profit cross-border journalism has been going on for a long time. What WikiLeaks did was increase the scale of the leaks and where this is similar to WikiLeaks is that it's all about big data. WikiLeaks was in fact 1.65 gigabytes of material, this was much, much bigger, 200 gigabytes of unstructured material.
How did you go about structuring it?
It wasn't easy. What you have here is a mixture of things, emails stretching back 15 years - some in obsolete systems - internal company memos, things like scanned copies of passports - a wild variety of data formats. We used specialized software to crunch all this big data and make it searchable.
Was there a particular incident that triggered the decision to release the data now?
Absolutely not. What triggered it was that after 15 months of solid work of trying to tease out the clues in there we had finally got enough names from all over the world - significant political figures, government officials, wealthy families that kind of thing - to be able to publish for the first time. And it was important that everybody working on this internationally agreed to publish simultaneously.
The identities of some of those involved have been revealed, but where does it go from here? Is it not the task of politicians to come up with ways of tackling the problem? And how willing are they to do so given their previous lack of interest in clamping down on banks and wealthly individuals?
Well, one prominent politician here (in the UK), Lord Oakeshott (member of the Liberal Democrats and an investment banker - the ed.) said in response to this that our disclosures were a stain on the face of Britain because the British Virgin Islands are a British territory which is the home of hundreds of thousands of these secret off-shore companies which enable individuals to hide their wealth. So I think there'll be increasing political pressure to do something about the scandal of the BVI. The other development is going to be that because we are exposing the identities of those who want to keep their wealth secret, they will no longer have the same confidence that if you go to the BVI or Singapore or the Seychelles that your details can be kept secret so I think they will lose confidence and diminish the attraction of these off-shore havens.
David Cameron and the UK host the G-8 summit in June and he's been vociferous in his calls to clamp down on big business in the form of heavy taxes. At the same time, he's turning a blind eye to those British-run offshore havens and their murky money deals. So how realistic is any type of common approach at the summit?
Well, Cameron as president of the G-8 is going to be targeted with accusations of hypocrisy. And not only does Britain at the moment refuse to reform the BVI secrecy system, it also refuses to reform its own system of landownership under which it's possible to secretly own property in London for example which is the reason why scores of oligarchs and looters from developing countries have come to Britain and put their money into property in the name of BVI companies because they know they're allowed to conceal it.
You're obviously not going to reveal the confidential source of your information, but this is clearly bonafide material.
All that we can say is there is absolutely no doubt that this vast trove of data is authentic and enormous - 200 gigabytes is the equivalent of several libaries of half a million books.
How much more can we expect and what's the timeframe?
In this phase there's going to be another week or so, after that I think there'll be a pause while they (the ICIJ) set to work on analyzing the next phase because there are very big areas here that haven't yet been explored. In Asia for example, there are literally thousands of names that haven't yet been analyzed.
David Leigh is investigations executive editor at The Guardian and part of the international team of journalists at the ICIJ investigating the offshore leaks. He is the co-author - with fellow Guardian journalist Luke Harding - of the best-selling book "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy." Leigh was part of the Guardian team which worked closely with Assange in publishing the classified documents.