What Are the Pandora Papers? What They Revealed and Importance

What Are the Pandora Papers?

The Pandora Papers are a release of nearly 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 to these documents as a reference to the ancient myth of Pandora's Box which evokes an outpouring of trouble and woe.

The data were obtained over several years and released in the fall of 2021 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a group in Washington, D.C., that 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 nearly 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 that provided the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, exposing similar dealings.
  • While offshore assets and accounts are not always illegal, hiding assets and avoiding taxation are.

Understanding the Pandora Papers

In October 2021, the 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 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 are.

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.
  • Starr, the former Beatles drummer 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 priciest mansions while avoiding £18.5 million ($25.4 million at the time) in taxes due.
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah II secretly owned 14 luxury homes in the United Kingdom and the United States worth more than $106 million total. The nation of Jordan is among the top recipients of foreign aid, receiving more than $1.5 billion in aid and military funding from the United States alone in 2020.
  • The prime minister of the Czech Republic failed to disclose an offshore investment company used to purchase a lavish estate on the French Riviera for $22 million.

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 United Kingdom, and France.

The ICIJ and Other Investigations

The ICIJ is a global network headquartered in Washington, D.C. consisting of nearly 300 investigative journalists and more than 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 the 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, emails, trust deeds, and other paperwork from a Bermuda-based law firm called Appleby. The Paradise Papers also included over 500,000 documents from Singapore-based Asiaciti and 6 million documents from company registries in 19 jurisdictions.

Recent Offshore Leaks
 Leak Year Data Size # of Documents
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
Article Sources
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  1. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “Pandora Papers: An Offshore Data Tsunami.”

  2. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. "Frequently Asked Questions About the Pandora Papers and ICIJ."

  3. BBC News. “Pandora Papers: A Simple Guide to the Pandora Papers Leak.”

  4. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “Offshore Havens and Hidden Riches of World Leaders and Billionaires Exposed in Unprecedented Leak.”

  5. Rolling Stone. “Elton John, Ringo Starr, Shakira Named in Pandora Papers Leak Exposing Offshore Financial Dealings.”

  6. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. "Secret Real Estate Purchases Are a Driving Force Behind the Offshore Economy."

  7. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “5 Ways Celebrities in the Pandora Papers Use the Offshore System.”

  8. BBC News. “Pandora Papers: Qatar Ruling Family Avoided £18.5m Tax on London Super-mansion.”

  9. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. "While Foreign Aid Poured In, Jordan's King Abdullah Funnelled $100m Through Secret Companies to Buy Luxury Homes."

  10. U.S. Department of State. "U.S. Relations With Jordan."

  11. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. "Czech Prime Minister Secretly Bought Lavish French Riviera Estate Using Offshore Companies."

  12. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “About.”

  13. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “Five Years Later, Panama Papers Still Having a Big Impact."

  14. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. "Paradise Papers Firm Managed Millions for a Carousel of Millionaires and Fraudsters."

  15. BBC News. "Paradise Papers: Everything You Need to Know About the Leak."

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