A trove of documents known as the “Paradise Papers” leaked out of a law firm specializing in offshore banking reveal previously undisclosed financial dealings that touch some of the world’s highest profile individuals, including U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and even the Queen of England.
The firm, Bermuda-based Appleby, saw its data leaked to a leading German newspaper, which then forwarded the information to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the same group that won a Pulitzer Prize for investigations stemming from a similar leak of an offshore law firm in 2015.
Below are five of the most important revelations contained in the Paradise Papers.
Wilbur Ross’ links to Russia are deeper than previously known
It is now known that current U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross maintained stakes in a company called Navigator, a shipping firm, even after he was sworn into President Trump’s cabinet. One of Navigator’s principal clients is Russian energy producer Sibur. Sibur is owned in part by a Russian oligarch, Gennady Timchenko, known to be Vladimir Putin’s friend and judo partner, and someone subject to U.S. sanctions, and Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov.
Daniel Fried, a former State Department official and Russia expert, told the New York Times that Sibur is a company with “crony connections” in Moscow, and that Ross failed to disclose the connection in his nomination process. However, on Monday, Ross said the information had previously been disclosed.
Sibur is not just any Navigator client. The Times noted that in 2016, Navigator’s CEO David J. Butters, boasted to investors in a 2016 conference call that Sibur was beating out American competitors to control Europe’s energy market.
“Liquids are being shipped into all areas of the continent in increasing amounts, all in competition with longer-haul U.S. exports,” Butters said.
“If Mr. Ross stands to benefit, albeit indirectly, from a Russian firm controlled by members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle, it poses a potential conflict with his role as the lead cabinet member on trade policy,” ethics experts told the Times.
Ross has denied any wrongdoing, and has said that Navigator also services PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company; the Trump administration even imposed sanctions on the company this summer.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is calling on the Commerce Department’s inspector general to open an investigation into Ross’s ties to Navigator and its relationship with Sibur.
Jared Kushner’s ties to Russia come back into view via Facebook and Twitter investments
Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, founded a tech fund that features a Russian named Yuri Milner as an investor. Milner has been described as Russia’s most important tech investor, and the Paradise Papers reveal that Milner channeled Kremlin funds into huge investments in Facebook and Twitter.
In 2011, the documents show, Russian state bank VTB funded a $191 million investment in Twitter, while Russia’s Gazprom Investholding “financed an opaque offshore company” that created a vehicle to hold $1 billion in Facebook shares, the Guardian reports. The investments flowed through Milner, the Guardian reports.
Kushner has previously come under scrutiny for his attempts to court Moscow investors to invest in his real estate holdings.
Queen Elizabeth has accounts in offshore havens
The papers reveal that about $13 million of Queen Elizabeth’s $650 million private holdings have been invested in funds based in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
They were put into funds in the Caymans and Bermuda by the Duchy of Lancaster, the entity charged with managing the Queen’s estate. While there is nothing illegal about this, BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell writes that “it is extraordinary and puzzling that the Queen’s advisers could have felt that it was appropriate – for somebody whose reputation is based so much on setting a good example – to invest in these offshore funds.”
And, according to the Guardian, some of that money ended up going to a retailer “accused of exploiting poor families and vulnerable people.”
Nike and Apple allegedly tried to take advantage of tax shelters
The ICIJ’s report notes companies including Nike and Apple tapped into offshore vehicles. “The files also reveal how big corporations cut their taxes by creating offshore shell companies to hold intangible assets such as the design of Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ logo and the creative rights to silicone breast implants,” the group says.
Apple, meanwhile, allegedly “shopped around Europe and the Caribbean for a new island tax shelter after a U.S. Senate inquiry found that the tech giant had avoided tens of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting profits into Irish subsidiaries.”
In one email exchange, an Apple lawyers allegedly asked Appleby to confirm that it could channel Ireland-based revenues “without being subject to taxation in these jurisdictions.”
More than a dozen Trump confidantes named
Many billionaires mentioned in the document dump have holdings connected to offshore accounts overseen by Appleby, and they include friends and colleagues of President Trump such as:
- Sec. of State Rex Tillerson
- Billionaire Robert Mercer
- Casino mogul Steve Wynn
- Hedge fund manager Paul E. Singer
- Chief White House economic adviser and former Goldman Sachs exec Gary Cohn
- Real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer
- Federal Reserve official Randal Quarles
- The Koch brothers
- Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson
- Billionaire Steven Schwarzman
- Real estate investor Thomas Barrack
- Investor Carl Icahn
None of them are accused of criminal wrongdoing.