Officials around the globe cite the biggest offshore leak ever in moving forward legislation and probes, as politicians named in the investigation continue to respond publicly.
European Commission Paolo Gentiloni appears at a European Parliament session on Oct. 6, 2021, where members discussed the implications the Pandora Papers have on efforts to combat money laundering, tax evasion and avoidance.
U.S. lawmakers are set to respond to the Pandora Papers with landmark legislation that would crack down on professional enablers who move dirty money for corrupt clients.
The bipartisan measure would require a broad array of middlemen — including lawyers, accountants, real estate professionals, trust administrators, art dealers, financial advisers and public relations professionals — to ensure they aren’t laundering black market income.
“Disclosures within the Pandora Papers are the clearest demonstration yet of the historic threat posed by foreign corruption,” says a joint statement by U.S. representatives Tom Malinowski and John Curtis. “Billions of dollars of dirty money belonging to adversarial actors are flooding the United States.”
Dubbed the Enablers Act, the sweeping bill is inspired by an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists-led investigation of secret deals and hidden assets of more than 330 politicians in more than 90 countries.
Under the bipartisan measure, expected to be unveiled on Friday, enablers could be required not only to perform background checks on money flowing into their businesses but to report funds of suspicious origins and any other suspicious activities to regulators and law officers.
Anti-corruption experts said the legislation, which has been in the works for at least two years, made sense to introduce now because the leaked revelations published by ICIJ and its media partners since Sunday expose many professions that the Enablers Act now seeks to regulate.
“ICIJ and other investigative journalists have created the policy for this critical national security measure,” said Paul Massaro, a congressional anti-corruption adviser. “Global corruption is an existential threat to democracy.”
“The Pandora Papers have ushered in a historic moment for a sweeping policy response,” added Josh Rudolph, fellow for malign finance at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund.
Pandora Papers is the largest investigation into offshore finance and delves deeply into an array of professions. The bill’s proponents have especially targeted the legal profession, which they say has long been immune from proper scrutiny.
Rudolph and Massaro cited multiple examples of investigative stories from the Pandora Papers to make the case for lawmakers to pass the Enablers Act. They include:
TAX HAVEN USA: Pandora Papers found agents set up nearly 30 U.S.-based trusts in South Dakota linked to people or companies accused of fraud, bribery or human rights abuses in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
BIG LAW: A Pandora Papers investigation highlighted how the largest law firm in the United States, Baker McKenzie, is an architect and pillar of the offshore shadow economy. The firm did work for a Russian arms dealer sanctioned by the U.S. — and for Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and Malaysian fugitive financier Jho Low, accused of helping orchestrate two of the world’s biggest alleged frauds. Baker McKenzie, lobbying for big banks and big tech, also pushed back against proposals aimed at strengthening financial regulatory oversight and tax laws.
THE KING’S REAL ESTATE EMPIRE: The Pandora Papers showed how the world’s most rich and politically connected use shell companies to dodge scrutiny in international real estate transactions. Real estate professionals helped King Abdullah II of Jordan buy luxury homes in London, Washington, D.C., and Malibu with offshore companies. The transactions — totaling $106 million — raise questions about whether real estate agents helped a foreign ruler spirit ill-gotten wealth out of his country.
RUSSIAN SWEETHEART DEAL: ICIJ also showed how enablers helped Putin’s leading image-maker, Konstantin Ernst, acquire a secret stake in a billion-dollar real estate deal using offshore companies.
THE HUNT FOR LOOTED TREASURES: The Pandora Papers revealed that shortly after U.S. investigators tied notorious art dealer Douglas Latchford to stolen Cambodian treasures, Latchford and his family created offshore trusts that held scores of relics.
The bill is expected to be introduced by Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Rep. Maria Salazar, a Republican from Miami. Anti-corruption experts said it would help align the United States with most other countries, which already require professional middlemen to follow anti-money laundering protocols to detect and prevent criminals from disguising illegal funds as legitimate income.
“Our laws require banks to report suspicious financial activity, but not other enablers of money laundering, like law firms & art dealers,” Rep. Malinowski wrote on Twitter. “That’s a loophole kleptocrats can sail a yacht through, so I’m introducing a bipartisan bill to close it.”
More fallout around the world
Meanwhile, governments and political figures in other countries continued to react to the Pandora Papers.
Members of the European Parliament discussed the Pandora Papers revelations during a session today with many lawmakers urging reforms to stop tax evasion and other financial crimes facilitated by the use of shell companies and trusts in tax havens.
“How can Europe ask its citizens to make sacrifices when two [European] country leaders and one finance minister avoid taxes?” said Rosa D’Amato, an MEP from Italy. “This is not just a tax justice problem, it’s also a social justice problem.”
A key financial regulator in Singapore said it is examining reports that an offshore provider it regulates, Asiaciti Trust, did not properly vet some of its clients, according to the Guardian.
A spokesperson for the Monetary Authority of Singapore said the regulator “does not tolerate the abuse of our financial system for illicit activities and will not hesitate to take action against FIs [financial institutions] if they breach these requirements.”