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Pandora Papers shine a dark light on the world’s elite

‘The most remarkable thing is the network of lawyers, accountants and operations’ involved in tax avoidance and money laundering: Anton Harber – Professor of journalism, Wits.

FIFI PETERS: The secret workings of the world’s rich and powerful in hiding their wealth through a number of mechanisms such as tax avoidance and, in some instances, even money laundering, were once again thrust into the spotlight at the weekend with the release of the Pandora Papers – the leaks there. These papers comprise 12 million documents, and we have had more than 600 journalists in 117 countries – so in most parts of the world including South Africa – sifting through the files for months  in an attempt to reveal the inner workings of the shadow economy that benefits the wealthy and the well connected.

We have Anton Harber, who is professor of journalism at Wits University for more on this story. Anton, thanks so much for your time. My goodness, where does one even begin when you think about 12 million documents this time around? I can just imagine the amount of sleepless nights that the journalists who worked on the story went through. But what do you make of the latest exposé of the secret world of the rich and powerful?

ANTON HARBER: Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to talk about what is a fascinating story and development. One of the extraordinary skills that investigative journalists do need these days is to learn how to handle 12 million documents. You can imagine it takes a lot of technology, and a lot of understanding of how to efficiently process them. You can’t read them all, so you have to use quite sophisticated search techniques, for example. But there’ve been 600 journalists working on this over two years, some of the most skilled and experienced journalists in the world, coordinated by the ICIJ, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They specialise in this kind of work, handling that quantity of documents and coordinating journalists across the world in extraordinary cross-border work.

FIFI PETERS: I [can] imagine the level of accuracy that is needed in storytelling and reporting here, given that you’re dealing with really powerful individuals about whom you can’t afford to make a mistake.

ANTON HARBER: There’s no question. Yes, the journalists are vulnerable and if they get anything wrong – because you are talking about people who have access to all the legal resources they need if you make a mistake. You can imagine the skill it takes to separate 12 million documents to find the story hidden in them, and how the emails connect and, of course, the attempt to verify. I’ve no idea where they got them – and they got them from a source that they knew was authentic. But of course the greatest danger is that somebody slips you a  whole lot of documents and, within that, slips in some fake documents in order to discredit you.

FIFI PETERS: Just for our listeners who are thinking this is déjà vu, have they not heard it before, it kind of feels that way, because we had the Paradise Papers, we had the Panama Papers, now we are talking of the Pandora Papers, all speaking to the same thing – about how the wealthy and the rich and powerful are using these sophisticated ways to hide their wealth and build it up. Why do you think it seems that after a few years or so we have another rendition of some form of a secret working of tax avoidance, why  do you think that the behaviour hasn’t stopped?

ANTON HARBER: Well, it hasn’t. I think this set of papers goes a long way to explaining why papers go out, because many of the politicians and bureaucrats who say they are trying to stop it are implicated in it themselves, in using these offshore techniques to move, hide and launder money.

Let me say that some of it may be absolutely legitimate, people who’ve declared their money. You might ask why they choose to put it in in these complicated trusts and systems and companies. But obviously many of them are there to launder money, to hide money, to avoid tax and to transact in illegal activities.

Actually you are right, there’s been a pattern of massive leaks of documents that deal with this topic of offshore tax havens and offshore structures that allow people to hide their money. This really gives extraordinary insight into how money and power works in the modern world. I think that’s the really important thing. Yes, in all of these exposés have been some individuals and some companies that have been exposed, and it has led to the fall of presidents and prime ministers, and it has led to new laws and all sorts of things.

But the most remarkable thing is to learn more about the network of lawyers and accountants and operations that specialise in making this kind of thing happen and in the money and power that goes with it.

FIFI PETERS: Not to mention the banks, which also play a key role in facilitating the movement of all this wealth.

But prof, we’ll leave it there. Thanks so much for your time. That was Anton Haber, professor of journalism at Wits.

Just to give you an indication of some of the individuals cited in the papers, you have Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and the secret workings of his family, the King of Jordan who secretly amassed a property empire in the UK and in the US. You’ve got ex-UK prime minister Tony Blair, Russian president Vladimir Putin, of whom I think I saw an article in which he actually denied the allegations and his name being in the leaked papers, as well as Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš. So just a few names of the rich and powerful who are doing secret things that perhaps they shouldn’t.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if President Cyril Ramaposa’s name is included in the list, when it is released.

Nothing will happen. Same as Panama papers. Billy rautenbach should be arrest shortly as his whole scheme was exposed, but he won’t!

I expect the names of Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu to also appear on that list. Not all of the VBS money, that was stolen from the poorest of the poor, was spent on expensive whisky, French Champagne, watches, and cars by these leaders of the EFF.

The EFF is the ultimate tool of political extortion and the enemy of freedom.

Obviously. Don’t forget his illegal cigarette smugglings.

You not wrong and it’s the same for them all, they are all backed by the same dirty corporates and black market money

The US based ICIJ has many proxy sponsors including the usual Soros NGO. Why do the culprits promote their own whistle blowing campaign? There are many notable omissions such as the ultra mega rich. Are they being given a pass? Is this not a deflection?

If these journalists are so professional then why do none of them care a fig about the threat to journalism from the Julian Assange whistleblower case? If journalists do not fear and avoid telling truth to power then what can they expect? More of the Julian Assange treatment appears inevitable.
I do not buy that freedom of the press has suddenly been restored.

The map in the ICIJ website report indicates how many politicians they found with offshore accounts by country. Not a single one in the US or Canada or Australia or Japan. Plenty in Russia. Only 9 in the UK. Cherry picking who to throw the indiscriminate dirt at.

This is just sensationalism, there are many, many people setting up offshore investment structures to safeguard their wealth against 3rd world money-grabbing governments and people bringing frivolous lawsuits, against their estates. The farmer in Zim that had the foresight to st up an offshore trust years ago protected his estate against hyperinflation, money grabs and is in a much better position now.

Where the problem comes in is where those structures are used by ill-gotten gains, unfortunately, everybody is now painted with the same brush. If you are honest, you have nothing to hide if you have done properly well thought out estate planning.

Use your offshore structures as they should, colour inside the lines and make sure you abide by the law!

More corruption in fiat currency than in Crypto. Wonder why the elites regurgitate communist China rhetoric? When china says jump they follow.

Harber has no idea as to what a journalist is or should be.
If he did the first thing he would have asked is ‘Why this, why now’. This is old news with no revelations. So wealthy people avoid paying tax as far as possible, what’s new?
Any competent journalist would have asked why someone delivered these papers to their inbox, who supplied those papers and who does that person represent?
Much like all the Gupta papers just landed in some journalists inbox….that is a good thing, but I am equally intrigued as to how that came about. Not Harber though.

End of comments.

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