What Are the Pandora Papers?

The Pandora Papers are a release of more than 12 million leaked documents that reveal the hidden and sometimes unethical or corrupt dealings of the global wealthy and elite—including prominent world leaders, politicians, corporate executives, celebrities, and billionaires. It is the largest such data dump released to date, larger than the previous Panama Papers and Paradise Papers leaks. The papers reveal the offshore interests and activities of such individuals along with their tax sheltering schemes. The name "Pandora" was given as these documents may prove to open a Pandora’s box of investigations and lawsuits in the future.

The data were obtained over several years and released in the fall of 2021 by a group known as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington, D.C., which has been working with more than 140 media organizations on its biggest ever global investigation. This leak is important because, if wrongdoing is found and exposed, these high-profile people could be forced from office and/or stripped of their powers. Already, politicians from 90 countries have been exposed as hiding money offshore and avoiding taxes.

Key Takeaways

  • The Pandora Papers are a 2021 leak of over 12 million documents incriminating hundreds of global politicians and wealthy elite for tax avoidance and corruption.
  • The papers details how such individuals sheltered money in offshore accounts, shell companies, and real estate investments.
  • The papers were compiled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which then shared them with other media outlets. This is the same group who provided the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, exposing similar dealings.
  • While offshore assets and accounts are not always illegal, hiding assets and avoiding taxation is.

Understanding the Pandora Papers

In October 2021, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the Pandora Papers to the media and general public, consisting of nearly 12 million files filling almost 3 terabytes of data. The Pandora Papers uncover a complex web of tax havens, shell corporations, and offshore accounts that hide the true ownership of billions of dollars of assets. According to the ICIJ, the people exposed include "35 current and former world leaders, more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories, and a global lineup of billionaires, fugitives, con artists, and murderers."

The documents revealed in the Pandora Papers, some dating back several decades, come from 14 offshore financial service providers. Offshore accounts and corporate entities are often legal, in and of themselves, and most of the leaked papers do not actually show inappropriate or illegal behavior. However, some of the papers do indeed implicate some individuals in unethical or illegal activities.

In many countries, offshore accounts or ownership in foreign corporations is not illegal or unethical. However, not declaring those holdings and using them to avoid taxes or hide business dealings is.

Who Was Exposed in the Pandora Papers

While reporters and investigators are combing through the hundreds of people named in the millions of files released, some notable revelations have already come to light. Some of these include:

  • Famous entertainers Elton John, Ringo Starr, Jackie Chan, Bono, Julio Iglesias, and Shakira were named in the papers. Lawyers from many of these celebrities have claimed that no wrongdoing was done and that appropriate disclosures and taxes have been filed on all offshore monies.
  • Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, with a net worth around $400 million, created two companies in the Bahamas that were used to buy real estate, including a "private dwelling in Los Angeles." He also established at least five trusts in Panama, three of which hold life insurance policies on behalf of his children, and another trust keeps earnings from royalties and live performances.
  • The Qatari ruling family purchased two of England's most pricey mansions while avoiding £18.5 million in taxes due.
  • Jordan's King Abdullah II secretly owned 14 luxury homes in the U.K. and U.S. worth more than $106 million total. The nation of Jordan is among the top recipients of foreign aid, receiving over $1.5 billion in aid and military funding from the U.S. alone in 2020 (making it second only to Israel), and the EU has agreed to provide the kingdom with over $218 million in aid.
  • The prime minister of the Czech Republic failed to disclose an offshore investment company used to purchase two French villas for $16.3 million.
Where are the 336 politicians in the Pandora Papers from?

The Pandora Papers reveal hidden bank accounts, corporate ownership, and P.O. boxes set up in tax havens like Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, and the Bahamas. Other foreign holdings have been shown to exist in Russia, the U.K., and France.

The ICIJ and Other Investigations

The ICIJ is a global network headquartered in Washington of nearly 300 investigative journalists and over 100 media partners, who have been known to release groundbreaking reports complete with high-level leaks and data dumps such as the Panama Papers in 2016, which earned the group the Pulitzer Prize. The Panama Papers exposed a vast network involving tax havens established by individuals from more than 200 countries.

The so-called Paradise Papers were leaked a year later by ICIJ, in 2017. The 13.4 million documents and 1.4 terabytes of data again exposed complex international tax-avoidance schemes composed of loan agreements, financial statements, e-mails, trust deeds, and other paperwork from a Bermuda-based law firm called Appleby. The Paradise Papers also included around 500,000 documents from Singapore-based Asiaciti and 6 million documents from company registries in 19 secrecy jurisdictions.

Recent Offshore Leaks
 Leak Year Data Size #Documents
WikiLeaks 2013 260 GB 2.5 million
Panama Papers 2016 2.6 TB 11.5 million
Paradise Papers 2017 1.40 TB 13.4 million
Pandora Papers 2021 2.94 TB 11.9 million
Source: ICIJ and BBC