Financial documents released on Sunday show the secret investment of large amounts of money in offshore tax havens.
Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary is involved in a company that deals with US-sanctioned Russians.
The leak, dubbed the “Paradise Papers”, contains documents of 13.4 million copies, mostly from a large offshore finance firm.
As with the Panama Papers leak last year, the documents were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which asked the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to oversee the investigation.
BBC Panorama and The Guardian are among nearly 100 media groups that analyze the articles.
The revelations are just a small part of those that risk exposing the tax and financial affairs of hundreds of people and companies named in the data, some with strong UK connections.
Many stories center on how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and high net worth people use complex structures of trusts, foundations and shell companies to protect their money from tax officials or hide their transactions behind a veil of secrecy.
The vast majority of transactions do not involve any wrongdoing.
Some of the key stories released on Sunday include:
- Valuable assistance from the Prime Minister of Canada has been linked to offshore projects that may have cost the country millions of dollars, as Justin Trudeau campaigned to shut down tax havens.
- Lord Ashcroft, a former vice-president and major donor to the British Conservative Party, may have ignored the rules governing the management of his offshore investments. How were questions raised regarding the funding of a significant stake in Everton FC?
- An oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin, Alisher Usmanov, may have secretly taken possession of a company responsible for anti-money laundering controls in Russia.
The degree of involvement of the Queen of England
The Paradise Papers show that around £ 10million of the Queen’s private money has been invested overseas.
The Duchy of Lancaster has placed funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
This allows the Queen to earn income and manage investments for her £ 500million private estate.
There is nothing illegal about investing and no suggestion that the Queen avoids tax, but questions can be asked as to whether the Monarch should invest overseas.
Nicholas Witchell, the BBC’s royal correspondent, says it is extraordinary and confusing that the Queen’s advisers might have thought it was appropriate – for someone whose reputation rests so much on example – to invest in these offshore funds.
Questions will now be put to Buckingham Palace as to how this decision was made, he added.
Embarrassment for Ross and Trump?
Wilbur Ross helped avert Donald Trump’s bankruptcy in the 1990s and was later appointed Commerce Secretary in Mr. Trump’s administration.
Documents reveal Mr Ross retained an interest in a shipping company that earns millions of dollars a year transporting oil and gas for a Russian energy company whose shareholders include Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and two men subject to sanctions American.
This again raises questions about the Russian connections of Donald Trump’s team.
His presidency has been marred by allegations that the Russians colluded in an attempt to influence the outcome of last year’s US election.
He called the allegations “false news”.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal has called for an investigation, telling NBC News that Mr Ross had given Congress the impression that he no longer held shares in the shipping company.
“Our committee has been misled, the American people have been misled by the cover-up of these companies,” he suggested.
Where did the leak come from?
Most of the data comes from a company called Appleby, a Bermuda-based legal services provider.
Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained these documents, and others mainly from business registers in Caribbean jurisdictions.
Media partners say the investigation is in the public interest because data breaches from the offshore world have repeatedly exposed wrongdoing.
In response to the leaks, Appleby said he was “satisfied that there is no evidence of wrongdoing, either by us or our customers.”