Boxed into a corner


What else could I write about this week except the Pandora Papers?  The initial focus will be on the individuals named in the leak, but away from the gory headlines will be the real work: looking at the enablers.  The primary targets will be the fourteen “secrecy brokers” identified in the Papers (and all their offices – after all, a client taken on in one jurisdiction is often and easily passed to another).  But after that will come the real sifting of data: with 600 journalists on the team, looking at 11.9 million documents relating to the financial affairs across five decades of more than 29,000 beneficial owners, you can be sure that many more enablers will be exposed.  Indeed, some experts are already hinting that that is where the hatred (and perhaps the weight of the law) will fall.  Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network observed that “few of the individuals had any role in turning the global tax system into an ATM for the super-rich.  That honour goes to the professional enablers – banks, law firms and accountants – and the countries that facilitate them”, while you can hear Maíra Martini of Transparency International sighing as she says “here we are again, looking at clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption and financial crime while obstructing justice”.  (I’m not a fan of the word “offshore”, as it is so often used inaccurately to pinpoint specific jurisdictions.  But no “offshore” jurisdiction is offshore to its own people.  What it actually means is “outside of your own country”, which is a moveable feast – at some point, we’re all offshore.)  But she’s right: there are plenty who pay lip service to AML/CFT while happily signing up the dodgiest of clients.

The name of the leak interests me.  According to the ICIJ website, they chose the name because “this collaboration builds upon the legacy of the Panama and Paradise Papers, and the ancient myth of Pandora’s Box still evokes an outpouring of trouble and woe”.  To be precise, Zeus gave Pandora a box (in ancient Greece, it was referred to as a jar) as a wedding present but warned her never to open it.  Pandora’s curiosity overcame her and she opened the box – and out flew greed, envy, hatred, pain, disease, hunger, poverty, war and death.  She quickly slammed the lid shut – but the only thing left in the box by then was hope.  We’re going to need plenty of that as the implications and ramifications of this latest leak become clear – whether that’s realising that a client is not as you had imagined, or getting the stomach-liquifying feeling that your CDD processes might not stand up to close scrutiny.

I’m taking a few days off next week to celebrate my gazillionth wedding anniversary, so no blog post next Wednesday (imagine the marital disharmony if I sloped off to write about AML) – business as usual on Wednesday 20 October.