Unveiling the world of corruption
Photo: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Unveiling the world of corruption

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has produced an easy-to-read insight into the vast number of leaked documents contained in its explosive Pandora Papers about global corruption.

The Pandora Papers are highly relevant to Portugal as this is regarded internationally as well as by its own citizens as a significantly corrupt country that the authorities here are struggling to put right.

ICIJ has now released a series of brief explanations about how the rich and famous have been able to exploit offshore financial systems. It summarises the Pandora Papers published that run to almost 12 million documents amounting to 2.9 terabytes, an unprecedented collection of leaked files gathered by more than 600 investigative journalists from 117 countries.

The most corrupt individuals include heads of state, top politicians, billionaire company executives, entertainment celebrities and sports stars. What these crooks have been up to is still unfolding, but greatly inhibited by ICIJ’s revelations about the shadowy world of offshore finance and how inequality is impacting on everyday people around the globe.

Two names that immediately come to mind in relation to corruption in Portugal are the once fabulously wealthy businesswoman Isabel dos Santos whose Portuguese assets have now been seized, and former Prime Minister José Socrates who has spent a lot of time in court. ICIJ has named a dozen other former prime ministers from various countries. Two heads of royal families are on ICIJ’s lengthy corrupt list: King Abdullah ll of Jordan and former King Juan Carlos of Spain. Music celebrities include Ringo Starr and Elton John. Many of the elite have been using tax havens to keep under wraps such things as luxurious foreign homes, private jets, deluxe yachts and more.

The offshore world has thrived despite decades of legislation, investigations and international agreements aimed at combating money laundering and tax dodging by the wealthy and well-connected. These reforms are typically aimed at tax havens, which in popular imagination are often seen as a far-flung cluster of palm-shaded islands, according to ICIJ.

Keeping financial activities secret has become a big business in itself. The offshore system is underpinned by elite institutions – multinational banks, law firms and accounting practices – often headquartered in the U.S. and Europe, notably Delaware and Switzerland.

Why does it matter that lawyers and accountants are subverting the system? Well, explains ICIJ, when the super-rich get to play by different rules and stash their wealth in places where they don’t live, don’t make their money, and probably haven’t even been to, trillions get drained from public coffers — money that governments might otherwise be using to help deal with revenue crunches, a pandemic, climate change and more. While fortunes are sheltered offshore, everyday people cover the difference, exacerbating the divide between the global haves and have-nots.

Those assets are also hidden out of sight from authorities, creditors, claimants and public scrutiny — concealing unexplained or illicit wealth, enabling corruption, and depriving victims of wrongdoing of potential recourse.

ICIJ has also dug into stories on how financial secrecy works against the public interest in some surprising ways. But while raucous protests and fiery press conferences tend to dominate the headlines after ICIJ publishes a major investigation like the Pandora Papers, the real action — the real change — takes months and sometimes years to develop fully.

Based in New York, but ever focused on the entire financial world, ICIJ is keen to spread the word and welcomes newcomers to its information links and anyone who can help with donations to continue its extraordinary work.

See here for more information:https://www.icij.org/investigations/pandora-papers/

By LEN PORT

Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt