ICIJ: blowing the whistle on corporate tax schemes
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which on Thursday revealed a massive tax avoidance system organised by Luxembourg, is a collective of journalists spanning more than 60 countries seeking to root out cross border crime, corruption and power abuses.
Founded in 1997 by US journalist Chuck Lewis and based in Washington, the ICIJ has a small staff and low-key premises.
Modelled on the WikiLeaks whistleblowing site which gained global notoriety by publishing millions of leaked diplomatic cables, ICIJ relies on press organisations worldwide, including Le Monde, the Guardian, the BBC, the Washington Post and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, to help it gather information.
“Globalisation and development have placed extraordinary pressures on human societies, posing unprecedented threats from polluting industries, transnational crime networks, rogue states and the actions of powerful figures in business and government,” the ICIJ says on its website.
It said its teams have “exposed smuggling by multinational tobacco companies and by organised crime syndicates, investigated private military cartels, asbestos companies and climate change lobbyists and broke new ground by publicising details of Iraq and Afghanistan war contracts”.
In April 2013 the ICIJ posted online for public use a “who’s who” of people and entities hiding assets offshore.
It described that scoop as “probably the biggest international journalistic collaboration in history”.
The ICIJ had succeeded in obtaining a hard disc containing two million documents and emails which mainly concern the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands.
The leaks exposed the identities of thousands of holders of offshore accounts.
They include the family of the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, French President Francois Hollande’s one-time campaign treasurer, Jean-Jacques Augier, and the wife of Igor Shuvalov, a businessman close to Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been first deputy prime minister since 2008.
In January it scored a new coup with revelations that China’s elite are parking money in offshore tax havens.
To deal with the Chinese case, the group took the same tack it has used with other stories.
It linked up with a dozen media organizations around the world to give its scoops maximum visibility and ease the burden, it says, on the traditional media.
On Thursday, the ICIJ revealed a trove of leaked documents showing that hundreds of the world’s biggest companies have brokered secret deals with Luxembourg to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes.
It said a six-month investigation had found household firms such as Pepsi, IKEA and Deutsche Bank were among companies that had taken advantage of legal tax avoidance schemes with Luxembourg.