04 April, 2016
More than 11 million leaked financial documents show world leaders have used their power to hide money and avoid taxes.
It is being called "the biggest global corruption scandal in history."
The leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as his friends, moved $2 billion through secret accounts.
The documents were leaked to journalists. A group of journalists, called a consortium, reviewed the documents. The group is called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The documents show the secret financial dealings of the wealthy and powerful.
People often open up offshore accounts to avoid taxes and giving information to the public about their financial holdings, the consortium said. Some of the accounts were used by wealthy men to hide money in divorce cases.
Among the world leaders linked to offshore accounts are Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri and Saudi King Salman.
News reports in Pakistan said the leaked documents show three children of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had money in an offshore account.
Most of the world leaders named in the reports denied wrongdoing. But there were immediate calls for investigations.
In Iceland, some members of Parliament Monday demanded a vote of no confidence for the prime minister. The Associated Press said the account was opened for Gunnlaugsson in 2013 when Iceland was going through a major financial crisis.
Here is how the information came out:
Tax records for more than 200,000 companies and 14,000 clients from a law firm in Panama were obtained by an unnamed person. That person offered the documents to a German newspaper. The person did not ask for money, but asked for unspecified security procedures.
The documents were reportedly hacked from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca.
The firm specializes in creating offshore accounts. It denied wrongdoing.
The impact of the disclosures has been dramatic.
A Washington Post column Monday called it "the biggest global corruption scandal in history."
Russian television Monday did not cover the news about offshore accounts of people linked to Putin. One of Putin's friends identified from the leaked documents is Sergei Rodulgin. He is a well-known cellist.
Putin's spokesman is Dmitry Peskov. He said the "lack of details" made it impossible to respond. Last week, he predicted an "information attack" on Putin. He said the leaks are timed for September's Russian Parliament elections.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported on the divorce proceedings of Dmitry Rybolovlev and his wife, Elena. Elena Rybolovlev said her husband, a Russian mining executive, had hidden money.
The consortium said the leaked documents show Rybolovlev had purchased a New York City penthouse for $88 million and art work for $630 million. The artwork was obtained with the help of Mossack Fonseca, the consortium said.
Among those found to have offshore accounts were former top government leaders of Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Sudan, Abu Dhabi, and Ukraine.
In India, the Associated Press said 500 people were connected to offshore accounts. They include Indian superstars Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan.
India's Finance Minister said those who did not declare illegal overseas assets by last year's deadline would face "extremely costly" penalties.
In France, President Francois Hollande said the leaked documents are "good news" because it will help the government recover money hidden in offshore accounts.
In Norway, the DNB Bank apologized for helping about 40 customers open offshore companies. "That it was legal to set up this type of companies doesn't mean that it was correct for us to do it for these customers," the bank said.
The Czech Center for Investigative Journalism said it found 283 Czech citizens with off-shore companies. That includes Petr Kellner, the wealthiest businessman in the Czech Republic.
And in Australia, officials said they are investigating more than 800 wealthy residents for possible tax evasion related to off-shore accounts.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Ken Bredemeier reported on this story for VOANews. Bruce Alpert adapted his report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
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Words in this Story
scandal – n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong
account – n. a record of money that has been paid and money that has been received
offshore – adj. located in a foreign country
journalist – n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio
divorce – n. ending a marriage by a legal process
confidence – n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something
hacked – v. to secretly get access to the files on a computer or network in order to get information, cause damage
impact – n. to have a strong effect
disclosure – n. the act of making something known
dramatic – adj. sudden and extreme
respond – v. to say or write something as an answer to a question or request
proceedings – n. a meeting
penthouse – n. an apartment on the top floor or roof of a building
client – n. a person who pays a professional person or organization for services
firm – n. a business
obtain – v. to gain or get something
specify – v. to be specific about something
procedure – n. a series of actions that are done in a certain way or order
specialize – v. to limit your business or area of study to one specific subject
superstar – n. an extremely famous and successful performer or athlete
asset – n. a valuable person or thing
penalty – n. punishment for breaking a rule or law
resident – n. a person who lives in a community
evasion – n. the act of avoiding something that you do not want to do or deal with