Release of secret records draws worldwide response

By Emily Menkes

Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc daughter of the former Philippines dictator is under investigation following the release of the ICIJ secret records.
Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc daughter of the former Philippines dictator is under investigation following the release of the ICIJ secret records.

The ICIJ’s investigative series on offshore secrecy – which draws from a cache of 2.5 million secret records – has ignited reactions around the globe. In the 48 hours since the initial release of stories by the ICIJ and its media partners across the world, public officials have issued statements, governments have launched investigations, and politicians and journalists have been debating the implications of the records and the reporting.

Responding to the revelations, India’s Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said an inquiry had been initiated by the authorities against individuals whose names figured in the global media report. “Yes. We have taken note of the names and inquiries have been put in motion in respect of the names that have been exposed,” he told a press conference. In the Philippines, government officials said they will investigate evidence that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, a provincial governor and daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was the beneficiary of a secret BVI offshore trust.

Greece’s Deputy Finance Minister George Mavraganis announced that the Greek government was moving to address offshore-driven tax dodging. Greek members of parliament had asked Mavraganis what he planned to do about the 103 offshore companies that ICIJ found hadn’t been registered with Greece’s tax authorities. George Sourlas from Greece’s Ministry of Justice said the revenue loss caused by offshore was huge. “By the actions of offshore companies in Greece, the revenue loss to the Greek government is in the order of 40% or more of the debt of our country,” Sourlas said. “The offshore companies cast a shadow at this time of great crisis, when some get rich and many get poor.”

In France, President Francois Hollande denied knowledge of the offshore accounts held by his 2012 campaign manager, Jean-Jacques Augier, asserting that it’s up to the tax administration to monitor Augier’s private activities. Reports about Augier’s offshore dealings by Le Monde, the BBC and other ICIJ partners came in the wake of news about tax fraud charges against Hollande’s ex-budget Minister, Jerome Cahuzac.

But in a different reaction to the ICIJ revelations, the office of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev asserted there was nothing unusual about the information in the leak – which showed that his two daughters were shareholders of three offshore companies. The statement said the President’s daughters “are grown up and have the right to do business.” A spokesperson for Azersun – a holding company controlled by Hasan Gozal, a corporate mogul who was listed as the director of the daughters’ companies – said the report was biased and based on inaccurate information. “I regret that authority of Press Council doesn’t go beyond Azerbaijan and there is no such institution worldwide to fight racketeer journalists,” the spokesman said. And ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez publicly defended his sons’ involvement in offshore business. Uribe stated that his sons, Tomás and Jerónimo, are entrepreneurs and “have participated in business dealings since they were children” and “they are not tax evaders.”

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