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Paradise Papers: From Queen Elizabeth to US Commerce Secretary, world's who's who in list for 'skirting taxes'

Paradise Papers leak shows the offshore accounts and investments of Queen Elizabeth II, Wilbur Ross, Shaukat Aziz in tax havens.

Written by: India TV News Desk, New Delhi [ Published on: November 06, 2017 10:08 IST ]
Image Source : AP Paradise Papers leak shows the offshore accounts and investments of world's who's who

18 months after Panama Papers leak that shook the world by its revelations, another trove of leaked documents show the offshore accounts and investments of the world's elite in tax havens. 714 Indians figure in the “Paradise Papers”, a cache of 13.4 million financial documents, making India only the 19th in terms of the number of names among 180 countries represented in the data.

The documents were obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and partner media outlets. 

The leak reveals data of over 25,000 companies spanning 180 countries, from 1950 to 2016. The leaks contain documents mainly from Appleby, an offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond. Among the 180 countries represented in the data, India ranks 19th in terms of the number of names.

The report does not suggest that anyone named in the papers acted illegally. Setting up offshore entities for corporate restructuring or expansion is not illegal in many countries but is often done to exploit loopholes in law to avoid legitimate taxes in their country.

Here are some high-profile names whose names figure in the “Paradise Papers”: 

Queen Elizabeth II

The queen's investment managers placed roughly 10 million pounds ($13 million) in offshore portfolios in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

The investments were made in 2004 and 2005 by the Duchy of Lancaster, the queen's private financial manager.

The documents showed that the queen has roughly 3200 pounds invested in BrightHouse, a household goods and electronics retailer that has been accused of exploiting customers by charging high interest rates.

The queen pays taxes on the income generated by her holdings in the Duchy of Lancaster. She has vast financial assets, including luxury real estate, valuable artwork and jewelry. She is also the legal owner of many of the swans on the River Thames.

Response: 

The Duchy of Lancaster, which holds assets for the British monarch to generate income for her, confirmed in a statement that some of its investments are in overseas accounts. It said that all its investments were legitimate.

"We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds. All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate," it said.

The duchy has an ongoing investment in the Cayman Island fund and was not aware of the investment in BrightHouse, a spokeswoman for Queen Elizabeth II told The Guardian. The queen voluntarily pays tax on income from the duchy and its investments, the spokeswoman said. She also confirmed the duchy’s investments in two additional offshore funds. 

“The duchy’s investment policy is based on advice and recommendations from our investment consultants and asset allocation rather than tax strategy,” the spokeswoman said.

Wilbur Ross, US Commerce Secretary

Ross, a billionaire Wall Street investor known for buying distressed companies, was a major client of Appleby, which administered more than 50 companies and partnerships that invested in a range of industries on behalf of his private equity firm, W.L. Ross & Co, LLC. 

Ross divested himself of most of his business interests when he joined the Trump Cabinet in February 2017. 

Ross is an investor in Navigator Holdings, a shipping giant that counts Russian gas and petrochemical producer Sibur among its major customers. Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov once owned more than 20 percent of the company, but now holds a much smaller stake.

But he kept a stake in the shipping company Navigator Holdings through a chain of companies in the Cayman Islands, Appleby’s files and public records show. Ross previously served on Navigator’s board, and WL Ross & Co., which he headed until joining the Cabinet, has been Navigator’s largest shareholder since 2012.

Response:

A spokesman for Ross said that he has never met Shamalov, Timchenko or Mikhelson. He said that Ross “recuses himself from any matters focused of transoceanic shipping vessels, but has been generally supportive of the administration’s sanctions of Russian and Venezuelan entities.”

Shaukat Aziz, former Pak PM

Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s prime minister from 2004 to 2007 and the country’s finance minister for five years before that, worked for Citibank before starting his career as a politician. Documents show him as one of the shareholders and directors of Bahamas-registered Cititrust Limited from 1997 to 1999, along with other executives of the bank.

“Shaukat Aziz set up the Antarctic Trust in the name of his wife, three children and granddaughter weeks before he came to Pakistan to lead the finance ministry,” ICIJ representative Umar Cheema told Geo News

In 1999, the year he was appointed finance minister, Aziz created the Antarctic Trust in the name of his wife, three children and granddaughter. The trust does not appear in the financial disclosure statements Aziz submitted from 2003 to 2006, while he was finance minister and prime minister.

Appleby’s Bermuda office was the trust’s protector, acting as an independent overseer. In a 2012 internal memo, the law firm’s compliance officer noted that Aziz had been accused by the opposition of false declaration of assets, corruption and misappropriation of funds.

Three years later, in a database of high-risk clients, Appleby also noted that a Pakistani court had issued three arrest warrants against Aziz in relation to the killing of a local leader. In September 2015, Antarctic Trust was closed and the related file removed from one of Appleby’s internal databases. Aziz has dismissed both the accusations of graft and any association with the murder.

Response: 

The Antarctic Trust, now closed, held most of Aziz’s assets earned when he worked at Citicorp and was created before he relocated to Pakistan to be appointed finance minister. The purpose was “to insure that if he were to die, his assets would pass efficiently to his family,” Aziz’s lawyer told ICIJ. 

The law in Pakistan requires politicians to disclose their assets. Asked why Aziz’s asset declarations in Pakistan didn’t mention the Antarctic Trust, the lawyer told ICIJ that the “legal owner” of the trust was Citicorp Trust Delaware N.A., not Aziz, and that Aziz and his family members paid all U.S. taxes they owed, the lawyer said.

Cititrust is an affiliate of Citicorp where Aziz was an executive, and managed his personal assets for many years, the lawyer said.

Stephen Bronfman, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's advisor

Leaks revealed that Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune, moved some USD 60 million to offshore tax havens with ex-senator Leo Kolber. 

The offshore maneuvers may have avoided taxes in Canada, the United States and Israel, according to the ICIJ report based on experts’ reviews of the 3,000-plus files detailing the trust’s activities.

The revelations about Bronfman could spell trouble for Trudeau, who has championed openness in government and promised a crackdown on offshore tax dodging

Response: 

Kolber’s lawyers said in a letter to ICIJ’s partner CBC that “none of the transactions or entities at issue were effected or established to evade or even avoid taxation.” They added that the trusts “were always in full conformity with all applicable laws and requirements,” and said that no further comment would be provided by Stephen Bronfman. Trudeau’s office declined to comment.

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