The Pandora Papers

Tax avoidance is tax evasion.

Cory Doctorow


By now, you’ve likely heard about the Pandora Papers — the landmark reporting on financial secrecy havens, corruption, and the hidden wealth brought to you by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its 140 media partners worldwide.

This isn’t the ICIJ’s first rodeo: they’re the same consortium that brought us the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, leaks from the world’s tax havens and the elite law and accounting firms that enable the wealthy and powerful to live by different rules from the rest of us.

Each of these leaks have been almost unimaginably large: millions of documents, the otherwise invisible paper-trail left by likewise unimaginably vast fortunes amassed by the 0.1%. The scale and scope of these secrets makes them too big for any one news org to report out.

Hence the ICIJ, a consortium of hundreds of news organizations around the world, who bring both the raw human labor-hours and the specific, regional knowledge of the oligarchs implicated in the leaks to the reporting.

The ICIJ’s earlier landmark publications dealt with gargantuan leaks — but Pandora Papers are galactic, 29,000 accounts leaked from 14 offshore firms from all over the world: Panama, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, BVI, Cyprus, Switzerland, Dubai.

The arrangements themselves are characteristic of this kind of elite “financial planning,” which is to say they are idiotically complex, with companies in one country owning companies in another, which own companies in a third.

Each of these arrangements represents a risible fiction: a shell company is a business, a business is a person, that person resides in a file-drawer in the desk of a bank official on some distant treasure island.

10-figure assets can be owned by no one, until the instant some great beast liquidates them, whereupon these mysterious riches can be fully and incontrovertibly controlled by them, but only until the paperwork is signed, whereupon the assets disappear into mystery again.