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  • Jennifer Nehrer

The Pandora Papers: Hidden Wealth in Plain Text

On October 3, 2021 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) began to publish a series of leaked documents known as the “Pandora Papers.” The papers, found and reviewed by 14 sources and over 600 journalists from 117 countries, contain 11.9 million documents that amount to about 2.9 Terabytes of data. For perspective, that’s about 2969.6 Gigabytes - or nearly 24 full ELi Tablets worth of storage (they can contain 128GB each).

The information released in the Pandora Papers contains damning evidence of money laundering, hidden wealth, and tax avoidance by 330 of the rich and powerful from over 90 countries and territories. Some of the notable exposees link the family of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to 13 offshore companies and investments, the King of Jordan to a $100 million spending spree via a “network of secretly-owned firms,” and ex-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife to an offshore firm that they bought in order to save $361k on a property in Marylebone, London.

While many around the world have been mentioned in the Pandora Papers, a few noteworthy names have been left out. The wealthiest in the United States, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, do not appear in any of the leaked documents. According to experts interviewed by the Washington Post, this is because their tax rates are so low that they have no need to hide in offshore dealings.

Other files in the Pandora Papers implicate several locations in the United States and Central America as havens for offshore financial dealings. Among the most frequently used locations was the state of South Dakota, because of its relaxed banking laws. The prairie-ridden state specializes in a particular type of trust known as a “dynasty trust,” which is a legal way of storing money to save for generations without having to pay taxes on it.

This investigation has already sparked change. As of October 16, the Denver Art Museum has announced that it plans to return four Cambodian antique pieces that the Pandora Papers revealed had been sold to the museum by Douglas Latchford, who has been charged with trafficking looted artifacts from the Khmer Empire. Though the museum initially did not offer to return the pieces when Latchford was first indicted in 2019, the recent media pressure following the publishing of the Pandora Papers proved enough to drive them to return the pieces.

The Denver Art Museum story likely won’t be the only consequence of the Pandora Papers. In this sea of nearly 12 million documents, many wrongs will come to light, and hopefully, be rectified.


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