A number of journalistic outlets are cooperating in a project to describe the contents of 200 gigabytes of financial information from private incorporation agencies in the British Virgin Islands. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has links to all the stories using the data. The CBC has some of the most interesting graphics.

But I have yet to see a really good explanation of where this data came from–or why it was leaked in this form. The Guardian has one of the best explanations of what’s out there.

The leak of 2m emails and other documents, mainly from the offshore haven of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), has the potential to cause a seismic shock worldwide to the booming offshore trade, with a former chief economist at McKinsey estimating that wealthy individuals may have as much as $32tn (£21tn) stashed in overseas havens.


The whistleblowing group WikiLeaks caused a storm of controversy in 2010 when it was able to download almost two gigabytes of leaked US military and diplomatic files.

The new BVI data, by contrast, contains more than 200 gigabytes, covering more than a decade of financial information about the global transactions of BVI private incorporation agencies. It also includes data on their offshoots in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Cook Islands in the Pacific.

And CBC offered this explanation of why they are shielding the identity of 450 Canadians who are stashing their money offshore.

The documentation provided to CBC News includes the names of some 450 Canadians who have set up these offshore accounts or holdings. We have already reported details concerning one such account-holder and expect to produce more such reports in the weeks and months to come.

At the same time, we are mindful of the reality that holding an offshore account is not evidence of wrongdoing and may not be controversial. So we are not simply reproducing the raw information we have received through the consortium. Our journalists are working through that information in a careful and methodical way to confirm the information received, identify appropriate stories, and complete them with appropriate context.

We shall see — both whether the elite of the world respond to this leak with the outrage they responded to Bradley Manning’s leaks, and whether the thus far selective nature of the stories on this betray whose agenda the leaks are serving.

While this data may just come from an insider releasing the information publicly (but then why not leak it all?), it is not inconceivable that BVI’s competitors in the secrecy business might want to cut into their market.

18 replies
  1. Lake Effect Snow says:

    am currently in the midst of Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens by Nicholas Shaxson and all of these corporations and individuals are THE TRUE TERRORISTS ON THE PLANET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    TAX EVASION and TAX AVOIDANCE and all of that absolute horsesh*t IS PLAIN TERRORISM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    every single one of these sh*tholes need to be either shut right the h*ll down or B-52 carpet bombed until no longer functional.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    New York FIRE companies, of course, are among the BVI’s principal competitors (as well as users). London’s City firms are the BVI’s principal backers, as they are of other “post-” imperial offshore tax havens, such as the Channel Islands. The Chinese are among the principal beneficiaries of investments poured through BVI companies. Which puts US entities at the top of the list of competitors who might want to see money channeled through the BVI diverted to non-British offshore havens.

  3. greengiant says:

    Plan A, honey trap for anyone accessing this data base or even googling(TM) it. Well done, will catch crooks, pols and trust fund babies.
    Reported that one of the communications revealed indicated the customer would have a cow if he was ever even faxed from pirate territory.

  4. Peterr says:

    Who benefits from this? Two groups come to mind:

    (1) People who want to see BVI’s shadowy banking system taken down a notch or twelve. People like big international banks who don’t like losing business to offshore havens.

    (2) International money laundering investigators. They may have been tracking some folks, and found enough to be sure that money is being laundered here, but not enough (or, more specifically, not enough that would be admissible in court) to prove their case. But by dumping all this to the media, you get a crowdsourced investigation that doesn’t cost you a dime to run, and a side benefit of sticking it to the secrecy-mongers of BVI that enable the messes you’re trying to stop.

    With this happening on the heels of the banks in Cyprus going into the tank, I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection. Two places where institutional controls on money transfers have been lax suddenly fall on very hard times within weeks of each other? Yeah, it could be coincidence, or, you know, not.

  5. Jim White says:

    I wonder if a new “amnesty window” will open for US citizens to repatriate offshore funds without tax penalty before the names of Americans caught up in the current data capture are released?

  6. emptywheel says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: Thanks for laying out what I was thinking.

    US non-profit. Just one US outlet involved–the WaPo (and they don’t yet have their story up). And thus far not one US citizen (Denise Rich and a Mellon have been named, but they gave up their citizenship).

    It’s day one. But right now this feels like a competitive stunt by the banksters.

  7. emptywheel says:

    Also, I wouldn’t put it beyond US law enforcement.

    There were some WikiLeaks releases that certain people in govt were pushing. I realized then that this can work both ways.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @rg: Oops! Thanks.

    At least I didn’t call it the British Vagina Island. THAT WOULD be one interesting secrecy jurisdiction.

  9. rg says:

    @emptywheel: “interesting secrecy jurisdiction”. Interesting, yes, but consensual penetration could be problematic, given that penchant for secrecy.

  10. may says:

    however,there are glimmerings of recognition of the world wide profit shifting tax refusal activities filtering into the public consciousness.

    the idea of taking the benefits of the public purse and not contributing?

    not good enough.

  11. HotFlash says:

    Been reading the ICIJ stuff. Interesting in its lack of specification. Here in Canada, only one name, that for $2 million or less — IOW, nada.

    I read this not as a whistle-blow, rather as an extortion letter. Comments in various fora express ‘nothing will be done’ — innoculating?

    Call me cynical…

  12. dan auffrey says:

    Not sure if you’re familiar with Eva Joly, the french magistrate who was famed for prosecuting high level financial fraud cases involving offshoring (in the eu).

    She also set up the prosecution team in iceland during their banking fiasco. She’s an expert in bank/offshore tax fraud

    She’s listed according to wikipedia as being a board member to Global Financial Integrity, who i think funds ICIF.

    So i expected that she would have chimed in on the leaks, it’s right up her alley but so far i can’t find anything. Just find that odd. She’s always been very politicaly active and outspoken on this topic.

    saw this doc on offshore abuses which i thought i’d share

    There’s no doubt that all major crime runs through the secret offshore banking, business system, but the whole legal construct of offshore banking/business is shaddy in its best possible light to begin with.

    The way the leaks have been presented so far shames only individuals in isolation and doesn’t bring the larger problems of the construct into context. Not sure if it’s intended or only medias shortcomings.

    Hopefully we see public backlash and pressure for the list to be released at least at some point.

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