Bermuda-based law firm Appleby, which specialises in offshore finance, is the firm at the centre of the Paradise Papers leak that has sent shockwaves around the world, sparking global reaction. The company provides investment advice to businesses and wealthy people seeking to lower their tax burden and protect their cash.
The so-called Paradise Papers, half of which are from Appleby and its affiliates, have been shared with international media via the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The leak of 13.4 million financial documents, which covers the period from 1950 to 2016, sheds light on the secretive world of the offshore finance industry, which seeks to use lawful means to pay less or no tax. The view on the tax affairs of the rich and powerful reveals offshore deals that, while not illegal, are embarrassing for those concerned.
Appleby, created in 1898 in Bermuda, now has offices in tax havens including the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, Mauritius and the Seychelles, as well as the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey.
The firm employs 470 staff at its 10 bases dotted around the world, offering “practical solutions” in single locations or across multiple jurisdictions, according to its website. The group’s specialities include corporate, dispute resolution, property, regulatory as well as private clients and trusts.
For its part, Appleby has denounced the Paradise Papers release as a “serious criminal act” and stressed that its “overriding objective” is to comply with regulations around the world. But amid ongoing state austerity and stretched public finances, the scandal has also sparked renewed debate over tax avoidance, which is legal, and tax evasion, which is not. Reaction came thick and fast.
On Monday, as the first stories emerged, the European Union quickly denounced the “shocking” revelations contained in the leak. EU finance ministers meeting for regular talks in Brussels discussed tax avoidance the following day.
European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said the ministers were preparing a blacklist of non-European tax havens and pushing for sanctions to ensure it’s “credible and meaningful.”
“This new scandal shows once again that some companies and rich individuals are ready to do anything to not pay tax,” said European Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, who said the revelations were “shocking.”
Despite the tough talk from Brussels, Europeans have struggled to agree on the basis of an EU-wide tax haven blacklist. High-tax countries like France have pushed for the blacklist and a Europe-wide crackdown on tax havens. Lower-tax countries like Ireland and the Netherlands argue that will hurt Europe’s competitiveness.
Britain, in particular, is said to be particularly resistant, seeking protect the almost nonexistent tax rates offered in several of its dependencies, such as Jersey or the British Virgin Islands, that have been identified in the series of leaks that also include Panama Papers and the Luxleaks scandal.
The island of Jersey, a few miles off the coast of France, was where the latest reports said Apple shifted much of its offshore wealth when Ireland changed its laws under pressure from the EU.