The financial secrets of the rich and famous have been exposed in what is believed to be the biggest data leak of it’s kind in history.
The so-called Pandora Papers includes almost 12 million documents revealing tax avoidance, hidden wealth and money laundering by some of the world’s richest and most powerful.
It reveals details of 30 world leaders’ stashed away fortunes – including the King of Jordan’s secret £70m property empire and secret assets held by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Monaco.
Some of the Tories’ biggest donors are said to feature in the disclosures, released jointly by the BBC and the Guardian on Sunday.
If so then Boris Johnson will face awkward questions just as the Conservative Party conference gets underway.
A 600-strong team of reporters organised by the International Consortium of Investigated Journalists (ICIJ) is said to have sifted through the huge data dump over a period of months.
King of Jordan’s mansions
The leaked data shows the King of Jordan secretly amassed a property empire in the UK and US worth more than £70m.
A network of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens were used by Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein to buy 15 homes since he came to power in 1999.
This all comes with the 59-year-old accused of austerity measures and tax rises.
His legal team said the properties were all purchased via his personal wealth, adding it was common for such high profile people to buy homes via offshore firms to ensure they retain privacy.
Blair stamp duty
How do offshore tax havens work?
The process of getting money off shore normally involves setting up a shell company.
Shell, or letterbox, companies look like legitimate businesses, but in fact do nothing but manage the money in them.
The real owner is hidden, while the nominal management – usually an accountant or even the office cleaner – sign documents and allow their names to appear on the letterhead.
This allows the real money man, or woman, to hide their cash.
If the company was based in London or Berlin, the authorities could find out who the owner was if they were determined enough
Instead, they tend to be based in offshore financial centres, or tax haven, such as the Bahamas and Panama.
These countries have very secretive banking services and low or even non-existent taxes on financial transactions.
Are they illegal?
No – the practice is completely legal and their are plenty of good reasons for using them, such as protecting money from criminal activity and trying to circumvent currency restrictions.
However the structures are open to abuse from criminals and money launderers, who can hid behind anonymous companies.
In addition, some would argue making income more tax efficient is unethical.