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Unmasked: The Secret World of Offshore Tax Havens

“Although the mega-rich and influential often use complex offshore havens to hide assets, own yachts and art masterpieces and avoid taxes — often with the help of some of the world’s biggest banks — but lower-income individuals also use offshore accounts, a new study from the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveals.

The ICIJ, in conjunction with a group of investigative journalists, cataloged a smorgasbord of shady dealings by the wealthy and others — including government officials — in an exhaustive 15-month investigation.

In all, 86 journalists from 46 nations used high-tech data to sift through millions of leaked documents going back decades.

Caught up in the net of the tax shelters are American doctors and dentists, Wall Street swindlers, Russian executives, international arms dealers and families of despots, among others.

“We already knew how secret and inaccessible the offshore industry is, but we were surprised by now vast and far-reaching it is,” said Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ.

“We expected to find only the mega rich using [offshore accounts],” he told CNNMoney. “But in fact we found it was being used by a much broader section of society.”

The exhaustive effort “sheds new light on the methods used to deceive fiscal authorities and hide money,” German magazine Spiegel stated.

According to CNNMoney, the hidden accounts included proceeds from Ponzi schemes and money drained from nations’ coffers, with the cross-border proceeds as high as $1.6 trillion annually.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. This secret world has finally been revealed,” Arthur Cockfield, a law professor at Queen’s University, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The ICIJ said about 130,000 people were identified in the documents, many from unnamed sources believed to include banking industry informants….”

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