BELIZE CITY, Sun. Oct. 3, 2021– Today, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a trove of documents detailing tax evasion tactics and illicit use of offshore jurisdictions being deployed by some of the wealthiest and most powerful persons in the world. Said to be the largest known journalistic collaboration in ICIJ history, the Pandora Papers exposed the offshore dealings of wealthy elites worldwide.
More than 330 politicians, 130 Forbes billionaires, and a range of well-known celebrities, fraudsters, drug dealers, royal family members, and leaders of religious organizations are listed as those using these offshore jurisdictions to hide their business transactions and/or protect their assets. Belize, among other countries, is listed as a “tax and secrecy haven”.
The ICIJ said that the confidential records were leaked by 14 offshore service providers. Those companies form and manage the offshore accounts and companies of wealthy individuals with a desire to conduct business in non-tax jurisdictions. Owners conceal their identity and use those providers as frontmen.
Almost 2.94 terabytes of data were leaked to the ICIJ, which proceeded to share that data with international media outlets. The documents include 6.4 million text documents, 4 million PDFs, passport files, bank statements, tax declarations, company incorporation records, real estate contacts, and over 4.1 million images and emails.
An article from ICIJ states, “While some of the files date to the 1970s, most of those reviewed by ICIJ were created between 1996 and 2020. They cover a wide range of matters: the creation of shell companies, foundations, and trusts; the use of such entities to purchase real estate, yachts, jets, and life insurance; their use to make investments and to move money between bank accounts; estate planning and other inheritance issues; and the avoidance of taxes through complex financial schemes. Some documents are tied to financial crimes, including money laundering.”
The leaked documents offer, for the first time in history, a comprehensive look into tax evasion and the use of secrecy jurisdictions by the world’s super elites to secure their wealth.
Prior to this recent release of the Pandora Papers, leaked documents such as the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, which were publicized over the last two decades, probed the use of offshore jurisdictions. It must be noted that after the release of the Panama and Paradise papers, the EU opted to create a blacklist for those countries which were operating outside the scope of the bloc’s financial collective agreements. Belize was placed on the blacklist in 2018.
In October of 2019, Belize’s International Business Companies (IBC) Act underwent a massive restructuring, which resulted in the removal of Belize from the European Union’s black list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes.
During the period from 1999, when the Act was legislated, until the passing of the recent amendments, offshore companies and international businesses registered in Belize operated with little to no oversight. They have been used for the benefit of foreign principals who wish to dodge taxes from their home country, or clear illegal proceeds by way of money laundering.
The Barrow administration, under the guidance of the EU, drafted and enacted a total of 6 supplementary legislations to the IBC’s Act to bring the country in line with the requirements of the EU. This desperate attempt to preserve the overall financial reputation of the country and to prevent the collapse of its offshore sector succeeded, and Belize was taken off the EU blacklist.
The article published by the ICIJ states, however, “The records include an unprecedented amount of information on so-called beneficial owners of entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, Panama, South Dakota, and other secrecy jurisdictions.”
An article published by the Washington Post on the Pandora Papers names Belizean attorney Glenn Godfrey as one of the persons who allegedly played a key role in the formation of offshore accounts and trusts for criminals in the United States.
A video news piece published by the Washington Post states, “The Pandora Papers also expose how US citizens move their money outside the country while facing criminal investigations or costly lawsuits. This is where Glenn Godfrey comes in. His companies in Belize have set up trusts, bank accounts, and corporations for an alleged murderer, a high-profile child sex offender, a mob associate connected to the Colombo crime family in New York, and a self-described constitutionalist who solicited the murder of a judge, a prosecutor, and an IRS agent. Godfrey has not responded to multiple requests for comment.”
A press release subsequently issued by Glenn D. Godfrey Co. LLP states, “Our attention has been brought to a publication issued by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The publication, while not alleging any criminal activity by our firm, casts general aspersions that we were somehow negligent in reviewing prospective clients before accepting them. The matters referred to in the publication are alleged to have occurred around 2003. We wish to assure our clients, colleagues and the general public that in vetting prospective clients we at all times complied with both the letter and the spirit of all applicable laws. In keeping with best practice procedures that were applicable at that time and still are today, we accepted only business referred to us by professional intermediaries, such as established law and accounting firms, and we relied on due diligence investigations conducted by them and on our own research. In fact, all the persons mentioned in the report have long since ceased to be clients of our firm. We stand ready to cooperate with all enquiries, if any, the authorities might deem appropriate.”
According to Taylor Fuller, who is acting as the public relations representative for Glenn Godfrey Co. LLP and who issued the firm’s press release, the ICIJ contacted the company before the release and made threats that the info would be released if requested documents were not forwarded to them.
While tax havens are used by many businesses and individuals for legitimate purposes, at times these offshore trusts are used by criminals for illegal purposes. These include hiding assets from an authority, avoiding taxes, and securing funds gained illegally in jurisdictions safe from questioning, and these trusts are at times even used by politicians to mask corrupt dealings.
As mentioned, the Pandora Papers offer a wide-ranging look at how the wealthiest persons in the world have used countries like Belize to secure and maintain their wealth completely unbeknownst to the wider public. Over the upcoming weeks, more details from the leaked documents will be released, says the ICIJ.
AMANDALA will continue to follow the developments in this story.