Administrative Law


From India to Germany, Peru, the U.K. and beyond, two years after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published the Pandora Papers, authorities worldwide continue to investigate, prosecute and legislate against tax evaders, money launderers and the white-collar professionals who service them.

The 2021 Pandora Papers investigation was the largest investigation in journalism history. Led by ICIJ, a cross-border team of more than 600 reporters trawled through a leak of 11.9 million documents from 14 offshore service providers that specialized in setting up shell companies in tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions. The files detailed the financial deals and hidden assets of politicians, celebrities, business people and criminals in more than 100 countries.

Earlier this year, authorities in the German state of Hesse said they had acquired the data from an undisclosed source for a “six figure” amount. A dedicated task force is currently reviewing the documents and coordinating with law enforcement in “several” European countries to identify suspects of tax fraud and other crimes, a finance ministry spokesperson told ICIJ in an email. The spokesperson did not provide further details, citing privacy concerns and “tactical reasons.”

“Investigators [analyzing the leaked data] will come across a lot of evil — like that associated with the mythical Pandora’s Box,” Hessian Finance Minister Michael Boddenberg said in a statement in July, inviting authorities from around the world to join Hessian investigators to probe the data and “stop the tax criminals who harm the public.”

Other agencies, too, have been acting upon Pandora Papers findings by ICIJ and its media partners in 117 countries.

In France, the financial prosecutor’s office told Le Monde that the agency had requested international assistance to continue the investigation into the Czech Republic’s former prime minister Andrej Babis and his acquisition of a $22 million luxury villa in Mougins, near Cannes. ICIJ and its partners found that Babis, a billionaire, had used a web of shell companies in offshore jurisdictions to secretly buy the 9.4-acre property and failed to declare ownership of the property as legally required for politicians. Babis, who lost national elections following the revelations, denied any wrongdoing.
Peruvian authorities launched an investigation into three members of the Catholic religious group Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana who are suspected of using offshore entities to launder money and hide profits from the authorities, according to local media. Documents in the Pandora Papers trove showed how the trio secretly created shell companies in the British Virgin Islands and Panama to invest in a mining business, ICIJ’s partner Convoca reported. They did not respond to Convoca’s comment requests.
Indian financial authorities have seized high-end property and other multimillion-dollar assets belonging to at least five businessmen with offshore shell companies identified in the leaked data, according to information reported on India’s Enforcement Directorate website. One of them is accused of bribing a judge, laundering the proceeds of financial crimes and using an offshore trust and British Virgin Islands companies to hide assets worth more than $77 million.
In the U.K., tax authorities have begun reviewing potential tax evasion cases uncovered by the international team of reporters. In June, HM Revenue and Customs announced it was sending letters to hundreds of U.K. residents named in the leaked data, warning them to “come clean” with details of their overseas holdings, or risk harsh penalties.

“The work of investigative journalists or media coverage in general of potential financial crimes is sometimes decisive for the initiation of preliminary proceedings,” said Anna Pingen, a European criminal law expert and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law in Freiburg, Germany.

“This has been the case in a number of cases such as the Offshore Leaks, Paradise Papers, Panama Papers, Pandora Papers,” Pingen said, referring to previous ICIJ investigations.