The German state of Hesse, in which the main financial centre of Frankfurt is located, has purchased the 2021 Pandora Papers and Hessian Finance Minister Michael Boddenberg has said the initial indications show there are “cases worthy of examination”.
The Pandora Papers was the largest-ever leak of offshore data and it uncovered several layers of secrecy in the offshore industry’s continued efforts to conceal the hidden wealth of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people.
Many German companies have used Malta’s offshore, tax-friendly business registration regime to avoid taxes at home by registering letterbox companies in Malta and other so-called tax havens such as Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
But if Boddenberg gets his way, a crackdown on German companies avoiding the taxman is on its way.
The extraordinary revelations depicted activities ranging from taxes avoidance and evasion to stolen artworks and smuggled antiquities, and in some cases, money laundering.
The state of Hesse has now purchased the enormous dataset – for an undisclosed price and from unknown sellers – that includes the details of secret letterbox companies from hundreds of politicians, celebrities and businesses.
The Hessian tax administration is currently evaluating the data leak.
“Our experts have examined the data offered to us in detail and classified it as authentic and usable,” explained Hesse’s Finance Minister Michael Boddenberg said on Monday.
The cache, he said, includes around 3.8 terabytes of data and at least 10.4 million documents.
The first indications of “cases worthy of examination” are already evident, Boddenberg said.
The Hessian tax authorities’ investigations should show how “valuable” the data truly is, he said. The state of Hesse will analyse the data on behalf of all German states, the federal government and foreign authorities.
German and European investigators, the finance minister said, could contact them with any inquiries into the data.
The massive cache of documents exposes the financial machinations of hundreds of politicians, royalty, dictators and billionaires from around the world.
The name of Malta’s former European Commissioner John Dalli also features in the Pandora Papers. They exposed how he owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands that he never disclosed in his obligatory asset filings.
The data was leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which partnered with more than 140 media organisations involving over 600 journalists in 117 countries, who trawled through the files for months.
They eventually revealed how more than 330 politicians from 90 countries used secret offshore companies to hide their wealth.
Some of the revelations include the King of Jordan‘s £70 million spending spree on properties in Malibu, London and Ascot through a network of secretly-owned companies and the use of an offshore investment company to acquire a $22 million chateau in the south of France by former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš,
The files also expose how Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family traded close to £400 million in UK property, including a £33 million office block in London for the president’s 11-year-old son Heydar Aliyev.
One of the Aliyev’s properties was later sold to the Queen’s Crown Estate, for £67 million – to a company that operated as a front for the family routinely suspected of running one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
The leaked documents did not just reveal the workings of politicians. Journalists have found names of more than 100 billionaires, as well as celebrities, rock stars and business leaders, many of whom use shell companies to hold their luxury items such as yachts, properties, hidden bank accounts and artwork that include stolen Cambodian antiquities, Banksy murals and paintings by Picasso.
More broadly, the revelations by the Pandora Papers further illustrate the central coordinating role London continues to play in this opaque offshore parallel world.
Hesse had also purchased data sets from the Panama Papers, which, following investigations, generated additional tax revenue to the tune of millions of euros in Germany.