A new set of data taken from an offshore law firm again threatens to expose the hidden wealth of individuals and show how corporations, hedge funds and others may have skirted taxes. A year after the Panama Papers, a massive leak of confidential information from the Bermuda law firm Appleby Group Services, dubbed the Paradise Papers, has shone another light on the use of offshore accounts.
Here are the highlights so far of the reporting by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and partner news outlets on the so-called Paradise Papers. Bloomberg hasn’t seen the leaked documents:
- The rich may be richer than you thought. Jim Simons, the billionaire founder of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, has amassed more than $7.5 billion in a previously undisclosed, four-decade-old fund set up in Bermuda. Warren Stephens, an Arkansas banker and Republican donor, used a Bermuda-based family trust to reduce his tax bill and conceal his interest in a payday lender under US scrutiny. And George Soros, a liberal investor who has contributed to the ICIJ, used Appleby to manage a company that carried out reinsurance transactions that can be used to shield wealth from taxes.
- More than a dozen members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and top economic adviser Gary Cohn, held undisclosed offshore companies. Robert Mercer, a Republican donor who just said he would step down as Renaissance Technology’s co-CEO, was revealed to be a director of more than eight of RenTech’s offshore subsidiaries, who used other offshore firms to shelter money his family funneled to political causes. The Blackstone Group, co-founded by Trump economic adviser Stephen Schwarzman, used trusts and companies registered in tax havens to avoid paying taxes on two UK commercial
- After Irish officials closed a tax loophole that had allowed Apple to avoid billions of dollars in taxes, the US tech giant enlisted international law firms to help it find a new tax home and settled in the English Channel island of Jersey, the New York Times reported. The documents helped solve a two-year mystery of where the world’s biggest company by market capitalisation is booking a big share of its revenue.
- Want to register a private jet in the US? Bank of Utah manages more than 1 390 aircraft trust accounts that obscure the identities of the jets’ (largely foreign) owners, the New York Times reported. Among the wealthy foreigners said to use the bank’s services: Russian oligarch Leonid Mikhelson, an ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin whose gas company is under US sanctions.
- US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faces questions about his financial disclosures to Congress and the government after a report that he didn’t disclose business ties to the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an oligarch under US sanctions. The Appleby documents included details of Ross’s stake in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, according to the New York Times.
- House Republicans should slow down their consideration of a tax-overhaul bill after the investigative reports alleged offshore tax-avoidance by US multinational companies including Apple and Nike, congressional Democrats and tax-advocacy groups said.
- The Monetary Authority of Singapore said it’s reviewing the documents and will take action against any financial institution or individual that breaches regulations. The regulator made the remarks on Wednesday after the consortium said that some of the files came from Asiaciti, a Singapore-based family-owned trust company. Asiaciti denied any wrongdoing.
- Canadian tax authorities are reviewing reports linking a key fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to offshore trusts in the Caribbean. Montreal-based businessman Stephen Bronfman, son of billionaire Charles Bronfman, was among the individuals cited by news organisations including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star in Sunday’s leak of bank documents.
Commodities trader Glencore Plc was one of the top clients of Appleby, which even had a “Glencore Room” at its Bermuda office that kept information on the trader’s 107 offshore companies, according to the ICIJ investigation. (Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg LP, is a senior independent non-executive director at Glencore.)
- Prominent Silicon Valley investor Yuri Milner, who was an early backer of Facebook Inc., partnered in two investments with the Russian state-controlled bank VTB Bank PJSC before it was sanctioned, his spokesman confirmed Friday. Details about the relationship between Milner and VTB surfaced in the wake of the Paradise Papers.
- Indonesian authorities are investigating if former presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and the children of ex-dictator Suharto, named in the leaked documents, are in breach of the country’s tax laws.
- A North Korean was listed in the leaked documents as a shareholder in a Malta-based company which may have been involved in the overseas transfer of North Korean construction workers, according to Newstapa, a South Korean partner of the ICIJ.
- Queen Elizabeth II of the UK made a series of investments in a Cayman Islands fund through the British Royal Family’s private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, according to The Guardian newspaper.
- Lord Michael Ashcroft, a major donor to the UK’s Conservative Party, had links to a Bermuda-based trust with assets worth as much as $450 million, The Guardian reported.
- The Dutch Finance Ministry said it will review whether more than 4 000 cross-border tax rulings were issued in accordance with procedures. The decision follows the publication of an article in Het Financieele Dagblad reporting that correct procedures weren’t followed in an agreement between the Dutch tax authority and Procter & Gamble Co. “P&G has fully transparent relationships with governments and tax administrations worldwide,” the company said in a statement. “We may seek confirmation from governments and tax administrations that our interpretation of tax laws is correct. This is what was done in this instance.
Source: Marcus Wright for MoneyWeb / Bloomberg
Network provider Vodacom has announced that it will “significantly reduce” out-of-bundle prices for all customers from mid-October.
“For pre-paid and customers on top-up packages, the out-of-bundle rate will drop by as much as 50% once the new 99c per megabyte tariff comes into effect on October 15.”The out-of-bundle rate for post-paid customers was reduced from R1 per megabyte to 89c on October 1,” the company said in a statement.
Group CEO of Vodacom Shameel Joosub said the company needs to expand 4G coverage and keep pace with an increase of more than 45% in sustained data traffic demand.
“Both of these come at a cost, and we have invested some R32.7bn over the last four years. However, lack of access to spectrum is hampering our ability to drive down infrastructure costs and in turn, enable us to pass savings to the consumer,” said Joosub.
Vodacom previously told Fin24 that it is committed to the process of drafting new regulations, after regulator Icasa said it would hold an inquiry in an attempt to reduce the country’s high data costs.
Vodacom joins Cell C, which recently responded to Icasa’s regulation of data by dropping out-of-bundle rates and extending bundle expiry.
In August it was announced that Icasa wanted to amend the End-user and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations by introducing “out-of-bundle billing practices” and other “expiry of data practices”.
Previously, the regulator announced it would hold an inquiry in an attempt to reduce high data costs.The probe will be conducted over four phases and will be completed in March 2018.
Kyle Venktess for Fin24
Vodacom is reimbursing subscribers who were affected by a billing issue on Monday night, the operator said on Twitter.
Customers took to social media last night, causing Vodacom to trend on Twitter, to complain about disappearing airtime and data.
Those affected by the billing bug complained about missing data and airtime depleting for no apparent reason.
Vodacom has committed to ensure that all affected customers will be refunded in full. On Tuesday morning, the mobile network said it had begun the process.
Vodacom said that all out-of-bundle charges incurred during the incident are being refunded, and that depleted bundles are being reinstated.
The technical glitch that drained data bundles from numerous customers was sparked by a configuration change to the network’s billing system.
Vodacom told Fin24 that the incident had been the first of its kind.
“The issue was caused by a configuration change on our prepaid and top up billing system that was problematic. We were able to isolate the cause and roll back this process during the course of last night (Monday),” Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy told Fin24 on Tuesday.
Kennedy said Vodacom had already reimbursed customers affected by the billing issue. All out-of-bundle charges incurred during the incident are being refunded, and depleted bundles are being reinstated.
“We are committed to ensuring that all customers are refunded in full,” Kennedy says.
Any customer who has not been reimbursed for their data loss should contact the call centre on 111, Vodacom said. The network would then conduct a short investigation to verify the amount of lost data, before refunding the user.
By Jan Vermeulen for MyBroadband; Kyle Venktess for Fin24
Vodacom will actively participate in the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa) consultation process on the draft regulations regarding data expiry periods and out-of-bundle billing.
Vodacom told Fin24 that it was committed to the process of drafting new regulations, after the communications regulator stepped into the going feud between consumers and networks over the high cost of data.
“Vodacom is aware of the draft regulation gazetted by Icasa regarding data expiry periods and out-of-bundle billing,” a company spokesperson told Fin24 this week.
“Vodacom is committed to bringing down data prices and has brought down effective data pricing by 44% over the last three years.
“Through the likes of Just4You, which offers customers hourly, daily, weekly and monthly bundles, Vodacom has made significant inroads in recent years in its pricing transformation journey,” the spokesperson said.
The latest step by Icasa to join the #DataMustFall campaign was aimed at regulating data expiry dates, according to a notice published in the Government Gazette on Monday.
Icasa intends to encourage networks to extend the validity of data bundles.
“With regard to out-of-bundle billing, Vodacom reiterates its position on this matter in that it remains fully committed to addressing these and has already started to implement its plans,” Vodacom told Fin24.
“We remain committed to consulting with the regulator in our shared quest to continuously address customer needs and improve the customer experience,” the company added.
The public has until September 19 to submit comment.
Prior to the recommendation, the regulator announced it would hold an inquiry to try reduce high data costs. This inquiry will be conducted over four phases and completed in March 2018.
These phases include a market study, discussion document, public hearings, and findings document. Members of the public would have 45 days to submit comments following each phase, News24 reported.
By Kyle Venktess for Fin24
The hashtag #datamustfall is currently trending on Twitter where people are calling for an end to high data prices.
Consumers have once again become fed up with the high cost of mobile data in South Africa.
Apart from the cost of data, users are also complaining that cellular providers should not be able to set “expiry” dates on data – and that once purchased, data should be the users’ to keep.
A recent Facebook post on the matter went viral when it was shared over 7 500 times, sparking a resurgence in the anger towards SA’s main providers: Cell C, MTN, Vodacom and Telkom.
The questions consumers are now asking revolve around whether this is tantamount to theft, and what impact it has on the country’s small businesses – and the poorest sections of society.
Poet and activist Ntsiki Mazwai has called on South Africans to boycott all social media platforms from midnight.
The social media blackout campaign has the following aims:
“The social media blackout is a campaign that is aimed at lowering data prices. Data costs are obscene and are not affordable for people on the ground. We want to bring attention to this issue; we want to engage government and cellular network companies.”
Mazwai says that from midnight people should log off social media.
“We don’t buy data for 24 hours, we will meet back on social media the following day to discuss the way forward. Why should data expire after 30 days when you’ve paid for it?”
She has encouraged people to take part in the campaign because it is too expensive to access information.
“We keep talking about #feesmustfall but how must students access information or hand in assignments if data costs are so high? This has a negative impact on entrepreneurs and our families because we can’t communicate with them.”
Mazwai has further called on the country to unify for a good cause.
Refilwe Pitjeng for EWN; My Office News
Copiers can retain sensitive data on their built-in hard drives. The security risks associated with this are great. Copier Secrets, one of the topics covered on Carte Blanche on 30 August, caused a stir on social media platforms as people expressed alarm at the idea of their data and secrets being stolen and used for nefarious purposes.
Vodacom announced last week that it will increase the subscription fees of selected contract price plans on 1 May 2015.