They are known as the CDOTs – the UK’s crown dependencies and overseas territories – island states such as the Caymans and the British Virgin Islands. Each year billions of dollars in capital sail into the global banking system. Economists are charting an unrelenting, escalating transfer of wealth, enabled by the offshore system, often from the very poorest to the very richest nations. The money is sometimes spent in obvious ways – funding super-yachts, private jets, fine art auctions and, of course, property. The movement of this offshore money is an industry made possible in part by the secrecy on sale in tax havens. Mossack Fonseca operates in tax havens including Switzerland, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, and in the British crown dependencies Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. Mossack Fonseca is the world’s fourth biggest provider of offshore services. It has acted for more than 300,000 companies. There is a strong UK connection. More than half of the companies are registered in British-administered tax havens, as well as in the UK itself.
Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.
A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend – a cellist called Sergei Roldugin - is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married.
Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
Six members of the House of Lords, three former Conservative MPs and dozens of donors to UK political parties have had offshore assets.
The families of at least eight current and former members of China’s supreme ruling body, the politburo, have been found to have hidden wealth offshore.
Twenty-three individuals who have had sanctions imposed on them for supporting the regimes in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, Iran and Syria have been clients of Mossack Fonseca. Their companies were harboured by the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other jurisdictions.
A key member of Fifa’s powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be spearheading reform at world football’s scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and