Key findings from the Pandora Papers investigation

(Washington Post illustration)

The Pandora Papers is an investigation based on more than 11.9 million documents revealing the flows of money, property and other assets concealed in the offshore financial system. The Washington Post and other news organizations exposed the involvement of political leaders, examined the growth of the industry within the United States and demonstrated how secrecy shields assets from governments, creditors and those abused or exploited by the wealthy and powerful. The trove of confidential information, the largest of its kind, was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which organized the investigation.

A trove of secret files details the financial universe where global elite shield riches from taxes, probes and accountability. (Video: Sarah Hashemi, Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

Here are the key takeaways:

1. Country leaders on five continents use the offshore system: The Pandora Papers expose the offshore holdings of 35 current and former country leaders, according to analysis by the ICIJ. The new records show more than $106 million spent by King Abdullah II of Jordan on luxury homes in Malibu, Calif., Washington, D.C., and other locations; millions of dollars in property and cash secretly owned by the leaders of Kenya and the Czech Republic; and the acquisition of a luxury waterfront apartment in Monaco by a Russian woman after she reportedly had a child with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Representatives of Abdullah have denied any impropriety or use of public funds. The Russian woman did not respond to request for comment.

The investigation exposes more than twice as many offshore account holders and political figures as the Panama Papers, an earlier ICIJ-led global study of offshore finance, and relies on a larger trove of confidential information.

What is offshore finance and why does it matter?

2. Governments launch investigations after secret papers show how elite shield riches: Ahead of a congressional hearing in December, Biden said the administration would work with Congress to bring more scrutiny to trust companies, lawyers and other financial gatekeepers in an effort to expose and punish financial corruption. At that hearing, House Democrats called for more transparency and enforcement by regulators and denounced the highly secretive trust industry in South Dakota and other U.S. states.

Australia, Britain and Pakistan vowed to investigate the revelations. Meanwhile, a Kremlin spokesman denied that the materials proved members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle stashed assets in overseas tax havens, and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he has done nothing “illegal or wrong” in a tweet Sunday. The Jordanian royal family said that luxury real estate in the United States and Britain was paid for with the monarch’s personal fortune and not by public funds. Chile’s opposition moved to impeach President Sebastián Piñera in October after revelations included in the Pandora Papers shed new light on his family’s business dealings. U.S. lawmakers also called on the Biden administration to investigate the mistreatment of sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic.

3. Some American states have become central to the global offshore system: The U.S. government has condemned prominent offshore financial centers, where promises of discretion have long drawn oligarchs, business tycoons and politicians. But the Pandora Papers expose how the world’s elite moved money and other assets in recent years from international tax havens to secretive American trust companies, including those in Wyoming and South Dakota. The records also show how a firm in Central America became a one-stop shop for American clients, allowing them to conceal their assets while facing criminal investigations or lawsuits.

Wyoming and South Dakota were among several U.S. states criticized by members of the European Parliament in October. Offshore financial firms that responded to the ICIJ’s and The Post’s requests for comment issued statements asserting their compliance with legal mandates but declining to answer questions about their clients.

How money flowed from the sugar fields of the Dominican Republic to the burgeoning tax haven of South Dakota

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4. Wealthy investors profited from stressed American renters amid national affordability crisis: Over the past six years, 19 of the 32 homes on Tammy Sue Lane have been purchased by a billion-dollar investment venture, part of an unprecedented flow of global finance into the American suburbs. Progress Residential has been ringing up substantial profits for wealthy investors around the world while outbidding middle-class home buyers and subjecting tenants to what they allege are unfair rent hikes, shoddy maintenance and excessive fees.

5. Billionaires make extensive use of offshore finance: In more breadth than was previously possible, the Pandora Papers show how the world’s wealthy use offshore companies. While billionaires constitute a tiny portion of humanity, more than 130 of them who have appeared on the Forbes list of world billionaires turn up as owners or beneficiaries of offshore assets. The documents offer glimpses of exceptionally wealthy people, their yachts and jets, their inheritance planning — and their use of the offshore system to buy influence or avoid taxes. The United States’ wealthiest citizens — including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post; Tesla founder Elon Musk; and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates — do not appear in the documents. Financial experts said billionaires in the United States tend to pay such low tax rates that they have less incentive to seek offshore havens.

Trove of secret files details an opaque financial universe where the global elite shield their riches

6. A global treasure hunt leads to an indicted art dealer’s offshore trusts — and the Met: The records reveal how a notorious art dealer, Douglas Latchford, and his family set up trusts in tax havens shortly after U.S. investigators began linking him to looted Cambodian artifacts. The Post and its ICIJ partners launched a hunt for antiquities that Latchford and his associates are suspected of selling and examined how offshore companies are used to conceal wrongdoing in the global art trade. Although some museums have returned Cambodian antiquities in years past, dozens tied to the indicted dealer remain in prominent collections, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the British Museum in London. These museums and others said that they take many precautions to ensure the items they acquire weren’t stolen, and that standards for provenance have changed over the years.

In October, the Denver Art Museum announced the return of four artifacts to Cambodia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art met with federal prosecutors in New York to discuss whether relics in the famed museum’s collection had been stolen from ancient sites in Cambodia.

7. U.S. sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs hit their targets. While American officials say visibility into the private accounts of Putin insiders is rare, the Pandora documents show the reach of sanctions at a time when they are the overwhelming weapon of choice in Washington’s combative relationship with Moscow. Oligarchs — targeted for sanctions because of what the U.S. Treasury has called “malign” activity by Russia — have gone to great lengths to evade their effects, at times reconfiguring their holdings and shifting ownership of assets. Still, the measures took a toll on their targets and triggered losses that spread across the financial networks that include these Kremlin insiders.

Read more about this project and why The Post published the Pandora Papers investigation.