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The Center for Public Integrity  

Weekly Watchdog

November 28, 2012
Enable images Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze

The Center's global network of reporters, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, this week launched the first part of a multi-year project aimed at stripping away the biggest mystery associated with tax havens - the owners of anonymous companies.

Secrecy For Sale: Inside The Global Offshore Money Maze is one of the most ambitious and complex pieces of journalism the ICIJ has ever undertaken.

This first part of the project was done in collaboration with The Guardian and the BBC's flagship investigative program, Panorama, and focused on Britain - one of the centers of the offshore industry.

The first day of our series identified more than 21,500 companies around the world who use a group of some 28 so-called nominee directors.

The nominees play a key role in keeping hundreds of thousands of commercial transactions secret. They do so by selling their names for use on official company documents, while giving addresses in obscure locations all over the world.

Hiding behind nominee fronts are the real owners. They are of widely varying types, ranging from Russian oligarchs to perfectly legal but discreet speculators in the British property market. Their only common factor: the wish for secrecy.

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Turn on images Revealed: the Real Identities Behind Britain's Secret Property Deals

The real identities behind British property deals previously cloaked in secrecy were revealed in the second part of our investigation.

By then, the revelations had prompted the British government to promise that it would investigate any abuses revealed involving sham nominee directors. The second story showed how previously secret owners were identified in a sample of almost 60 UK homes and offices, ranging from multimillion-pound commercial premises in the heart of London to a small hotel in Essex.

They typified the 100,000 such purchasers who have set up offshore companies, largely registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), since 1999. The owners of BVI entities use them to hide their dealings in UK property and to take advantage of tax loopholes.

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View images Post Soviet Billionaires Invade UK, Via British Virgin Islands

Britain's friendly regime of offshore secrecy has tempted an extraordinary array of post-Soviet billionaires to descend on London, sometimes to the sound of gunfire.

They include a magnate who once tried to take over the SAAB motor company.

These billionaires on the run tend to offer similar justifications for their use of British-controlled secrecy jurisdictions. They say they must protect themselves from corporate predators and political enemies in their home countries.

The final day of the series will concentrate on military and intelligence figures using offshore entities.

You can watch our video on this series as well.

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Secrecy for Sale: Hidden Off-Shore Money

This week, The Center for Public Integrity's global investigative arm, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists or ICIJ, has launched the first part of a multi-year project on tax havens, such as those based in the British Virgin Islands.

Secrecy for Sale: Inside The Global Offshore Money Maze is the most ambitious and complex journalism project we have ever been involved with. The first part of our project is being done in collaboration with The Guardian and the BBC's flagship investigative program, Panorama. The initial reporting focuses on Britain - one of the centers of the offshore industry.

All week, the front page of The Guardian has been dominated by this project, providing the names behind the existence of a global network of sham company directors, most of them British.

The UK government claims such abuses were stamped out long ago, but our worldwide joint investigation has uncovered a booming offshore industry that can lead to tax avoidance and hidden assets.

Our project has already had an impact - the British government has promised to investigate the abuses we have uncovered.

This type of cross-border investigative work has been the purpose of ICIJ since it was founded in 1997 as a project of the Center for Public Integrity. And this complex investigation is the brain-child of the Center's Irish ICIJ Director, Gerard Ryle, who came to the Center from a distinguished journalism career in Australia. Working closely with Gerard is ICIJ Deputy Director and Argentina native Marina Walker Guevara, a distinguished international investigative reporter. Three cheers, Gerard, Marina and ICIJ, and congratulations on this important work and excellent launch with much more to come.

Until next week,


Bill Buzenberg
Executive Director

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