What the New York Times approvingly calls a "trove of secret financial information" was released Thursday, highlighting offshore secret bank accounts held by various individuals. The breathless story begins:
They are a large and diverse group that includes a Spanish heiress; the daughter of the former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos; and Denise Rich, the former wife of the disgraced trader Marc Rich, who was pardoned by President Bill Clinton. But, according to a trove of secret financial information released Thursday, all have money and share a desire to hide it.
And, it seems safe to say, they - and thousands of others in Europe and far beyond, in places like Mongolia - are suddenly very anxious after the leak of 2.5 million files detailing theoffshore bank accounts and shell companies of wealthy individuals and tax-averse companies.
The agent for the release of this data is a group calling itself "The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists," which sounds sorta nice. Turns out, they are a "project of The Center for Public Integrity," which also sounds kinda nice, all for transparency and so forth. But if you check out the donors of this aforementioned group, one finds none other than George Soros's Open Society Institute in the first tier.
Hmm, doesn't George Soros run hedge funds based offshore, whose clients are unknown, as in secret? I just wonder of the Quantum Fund (one of Soros's main vehicles) is going to have its holders revealed to the public? That would certainly reassure me about "public integrity" being the genuine concern of this crowd. And why the squad of fighter jets on the right side of the CFPI logo? The Blue Angels? What does that have to do with "public integrity"?
Meanwhile, apparently there are some red faces:
The leaked records, mainly from the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and Singapore, disclose proprietary information about more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts and nearly 130,000 individuals and agents, including the wealthiest people in more than 170 countries. Not all of those named necessarily have secret bank accounts, and in some cases only conducted business through companies they control that are registered offshore.
The embarrassment caused by Thursday's revelations has been particularly acute in France, where the Socialist president, François Hollande, who wants to impose a 75 percent tax on millionaires, has been struggling to contain a political firestorm touched off this week by a former budget minister's admission - after months of denials - that he had secret foreign bank accounts.
The scandal looked set to widen on Thursday as senior members of the government were forced to confront allegations that Mr. Hollande and others may have been aware that the budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, who resigned on March 19, was lying but failed to act.
Adding to the president's trouble, the name of a close friend and treasurer of his 2012 election campaign, Jean-Jacques Augier, appeared in connection with the files released Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Mr. Augier, according to the newspaper Le Monde, was identified as an investor in offshore businesses in the Cayman Islands, another well-known tax haven.
I am not in favor of tax cheating, but I am in favor of privacy. The idea that tax exempt groups are going around and violating people's privacy does not sit well with me. I think if we end up in a world where everyone's financial records are available to anyone else, we will not have a better world.
I like that French socialists are being 3exposed as hypocrites, but broader issues also worry me enough that I am not celebrating. The power of selective disclosure of offshore accounts is a bit frightening. Unelected, tax exempt groups deciding whose records stay private and whose go public does not sound like a step forward.
Color me suspicious.