Source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

A massive investigation from more than 600 journalists across the globe sheds new light into the shadowy world of offshore banking — and the high-powered elites who use the system to their benefit.

The exposé, dubbed the "Pandora Papers”, shows how the world's wealthy hide their money and assets from authorities, their creditors and the public using a network of lawyers and financial institutions that promise secrecy.

It's built on a trove of 11.9 million records leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which in turn shared them with partner media outlets such as The Washington Post and The Guardian to help conduct the large-scale investigation.

These are secretive, confidential documents from offshore tax havens and offshore specialists who work to help rich, powerful and sometimes criminal individuals create shell companies or trusts in a way that often helps either obscure assets or in some cases even help avoid paying taxes

Tax havens are legal, but they can be used for illegal (or unsavory) purposes: The term "offshore banking" was originally coined to refer to island nations with lax finance laws that allowed people to hide their assets. But now it refers to places outside of a person's home country where they can shelter their money without having to abide by the rules where they live. The financial service companies that appear in the Pandora Papers do business in Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Singapore, Cyprus, Switzerland, as well as in U.S. states including South Dakota and Delaware. Offshore accounts are not necessarily illegal. Many of the companies that responded to the journalists' requests for comment said they had not broken any laws. But account holders can use offshore trusts and shell companies for illicit purposes, such as to avoid paying taxes or to fund criminal enterprises.

There are more than 300 current and former politicians who appear in the Pandora Papers.

Found to have offshore entities

Europe: Nearly 100 European politicians and public officials from 27 countries and territories, including the current and former leaders of 4 countries and territories.

Middle East: Nearly 40 politicians and public officials from 9 countries in the Middle East including the current and former leaders of 6 countries and territories.

Africa: Nearly 50 African politicians and public officials from 18 countries, including  the current and former leaders of 5 countries.

Asia: Nearly 70 politicians and public officials from 20 countries and territories in Asia, including the current and former leaders of two countries.

Latin America and the Caribbean:  Nearly 100 politicians and public officials from 18 countries in Latin America  including the current and former country leaders of 10 countries — the most of any region represented in the documents.

Eastern Africa: 1

At a time when politicians routinely stand up on stage and say that they're committed to accountability, what the Pandora Papers instead shows is that the same people who could, if they wanted to, help overcome secrecy instead are participants in that system. When the "Panama Papers" investigation was released five years ago, some thought it would lead to reforms in offshore banking that would make it harder for people to hide their assets.

Instead, the Pandora Papers investigation reveals that the wealthy simply found new ways to stash their cash and avoid scrutiny. The leaked documents contain details on more than 29,000 offshore bank accounts, over twice the number exposed by the Panama Papers in 2016. The records show that those involved in offshore banking also worried about — and sought to avoid — another leak of confidential information on the scale of the Panama Papers.

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