“天堂文件”揭全球精英巨额离岸财富

编辑:给力英语新闻 更新:2017年11月7日 作者:纽约时报中文网傅才德(By MICHAEL FORSYTHE)

离岸律所毅柏位于百慕大哈密尔顿的办公室。
离岸律所毅柏位于百慕大哈密尔顿的办公室。

它被叫做“天堂文件”(Paradise Papers):国际调查记者同盟(International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,简称ICIJ)公开的一系列泄密文件中最新的一批,让通过离岸避税天堂流动的数万亿美元曝光。

此次泄露的文件超过1340万份,其核心聚焦在百慕大的毅柏律师事务所(Appleby)。这家拥有119年历史的公司服务于蓝筹股公司及异常富有的人士。它帮助他们减轻税务负担;隐匿名下资产,例如公司、私人飞机、房地产和游艇等;并且建立起大型离岸信托,某些信托持有数十亿美元。

国际调查记者同盟由来自67个国家、90多家媒体的380多名记者组成,它已花费数月来调查这批最新的文件。《纽约时报》也是其中一员。

像“巴拿马文件”一样,“天堂文件”也是通过《南德意志报》(Süddeutsche Zeitung)的两位记者泄露了出来,之后共享给ICIJ,这家位于华盛顿的组织曾因报道一家巴拿马律所数百万份档案而获得普利策奖。那批文件的公开在去年导致一名总理辞职,并且揭开了与俄罗斯总统弗拉基米尔·普京(Vladimir V. Putin)亲近人士的财富。

毅柏律师事务所以精英为主的客户群体与莫萨克-冯塞卡律师事务所(Mossack Fonseca)形成了鲜明对比,后者遭泄露的档案后来成为了“巴拿马文件”,并且接生意时似乎不大挑客户。其中不少遭泄露的材料读来索然无味:有各种电子表格、招股说明书和账单。但里面,有着能够帮助揭露跨国公司如何避税,以及超级富豪如何隐藏财富的文件。这些记录可追溯至1960年,最新的到2016年。

毅柏律师事务所在全球避税天堂都设有办公室。除了在百慕大的总部外,该律所还在如英属维尔京群岛和加勒比地区的开曼群岛,英属马恩岛、根西岛和泽西岛,印度洋的毛里求斯和塞舌尔,以及香港和上海设有办事处。

美国公司和美国人占据了客户名单的主要部分。过去的此类公开中,名单都不是由美国客户主导的。例如2013年来自新加坡和英属维尔京群岛两名离岸公司创办人的“离岸解密”(Offshore Leaks);2015年来自一家瑞士私人银行的“瑞士解密”(Swiss Leaks),该银行为英国汇丰银行所拥有;以及2016年来自巴哈马的另一次解密。

这批文件不仅仅来自毅柏律师事务所,也来自于新加坡的盛亚信托(Asiaciti Trust)以及在百慕大、开曼群岛、黎巴嫩和马耳他这些地方的官方商业注册信息。

成立离岸公司基本上是合法的,这是企业的常规做法,以加速如并购这种跨境交易的速度。国际调查记者同盟进行询问后,毅柏律师事务所在10月24日的一则公开声明中表示,该公司“在监管极为严格的地区经常接受检查”。

“毅柏律师事务所已经全面、彻底地就这些指控进行了调查,无论是我们这边还是客户方面,均无任何失当行为,对此我们很满意,”该律所说。

但由于最新的泄密文件,一些富有人士及跨国企业可能会在使用离岸股权结构前三思,已在国会调查资金转移海外方面的委员会工作数十年的律师杰克·布卢姆(Jack Blum)说道。

“被发现的危险迅速增加,”布卢姆在采访中说。“如果我是有钱人,想离岸隐藏财富,以免税务人员发现,我的噩梦将是把钱放在文件会被泄露的人那里。”

傅才德(Michael Forsythe)是《纽约时报》记者。
翻译:纽约时报中文网

Millions of Leaked Files Shine Light on Where the Elite Hide Their Money

It’s called the Paradise Papers: the latest in a series of leaks made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shedding light on the trillions of dollars that move through offshore tax havens.

The core of the leak, totaling more than 13.4 million documents, focuses on the Bermudan law firm Appleby, a 119-year old company that caters to blue chip corporations and very wealthy people. Appleby helps clients reduce their tax burden; obscure their ownership of assets like companies, private aircraft, real estate and yachts; and set up huge offshore trusts that in some cases hold billions of dollars.

The New York Times is part of the group of more than 380 journalists from over 90 media organizations in 67 countries that have spent months examining the latest set of documents.

As with the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers leak came through a duo of reporters at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and was then shared with I.C.I.J., a Washington-based group that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the millions of records of a Panamanian law firm. The release of that trove of documents led to the resignation of one prime minister last year and to the unmasking of the wealth of people close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The predominantly elite clients of Appleby contrast with those of Mossack Fonseca — the company whose leaked records became the Panama Papers — which appeared to be less discriminating in the business it took on. Much of the material makes for dull reading: Spreadsheets, prospectuses and billing statements abound. But amid these are documents that help reveal how multinational companies avoid taxes and how the superrich hide their wealth. The records date back to 1950 and up to 2016.

Appleby has offices in tax havens around the world. In addition to its Bermudan headquarters, it works out of places like the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean; the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey off Britain; Mauritius and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean; and Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Americans — companies and people — dominate the list of clients. Past disclosures, such as the 2013 “Offshore Leaks” from two offshore incorporators in Singapore and the British Virgin Islands, the 2015 “Swiss Leaks” from a private Swiss bank owned by the British bank HSBC and another leak in 2016 from the Bahamas were dominated by clients not from the United States.

The documents come not only from Appleby, but also from the Singaporean company Asiaciti Trust and official business registries in places such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Lebanon and Malta.

Setting up companies offshore is generally legal, and corporations routinely do so to facilitate cross-border transactions such as mergers and acquisitions. Appleby, in a public statement on Oct. 24, after inquiries from I.C.I.J., said that it was “subject to frequent regulatory checks” in “highly regulated jurisdictions.”

“Appleby has thoroughly and vigorously investigated the allegations and we are satisfied that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients,” the company said.

But with this latest leak, some wealthy individuals and multinational corporations may think twice about using offshore ownership structures, said Jack Blum, a lawyer who worked for decades on congressional committees investigating money transfers overseas.

“The danger of being found out has increased exponentially,” Mr. Blum said in an interview. “If I were a rich guy looking to hide money offshore so that the tax man won’t get me, my nightmare would be to put it in the hands of somebody whose documents leak.”