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Offshore havens and hidden wealth of world leaders and billionaires exposed in unprecedented leak

This article first appeared on El País on October 3, 2021.

Millions of leaked documents, which sparked the largest journalistic collaboration in history, reveal the financial secrets of 35 heads and former heads of state and more than 330 officials and politicians in 91 countries and territories, as well as a global array of fugitives, fraudsters, and murderers.

These secret documents showcase the offshore businesses of the King of Jordan, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya, and Ecuador, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The files also detail the financial activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unofficial propaganda minister” and more than 130 billionaires from Russia, India, the United States, Mexico, and other nations.

The leaked documents reveal that many of the actors who would do away with the offshore system are beneficiaries of its services, hiding assets in paper companies and trusts, while their governments do little to stem the global flow of illicit money that enriches criminals and impoverishes nations.

Among the hidden treasures revealed in the documents are:

A $22 million chateau on the French Riviera, complete with cinema and two swimming pools, was purchased through offshore companies by the prime minister of the Czech Republic, a populist billionaire who has campaigned against the corruption of economic and political elites.

More than $13 million hidden in an opaque trust in the U.S. Great Plains by the scion of one of Guatemala’s most powerful families; a dynasty that controls a conglomerate of soap and lipstick manufacturing companies, and has been accused of abuses against its workers and the environment.

Three mansions on the coast of Malibu that the King of Jordan bought for $68 million through three offshore companies years after the Arab Spring, in which Jordanians took to the streets to protest unemployment and corruption.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained 11.9 million confidential documents and led a team of more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets who spent two years meticulously sifting through them, tracking down sources, and digging through court files and other public records in dozens of countries.

The leaked documents come from 14 offshore service provider firms based in several countries. These firms create paper companies and other opaque hideouts for their clients, who generally seek to keep their financial operations in the shadows. The information obtained exceeds nearly three times the number of offshore operations of heads of state revealed in previous leaks of documents on tax havens; and more than twice the number of transactions of public servants.

In this era of expanding authoritarianism and inequality, the Pandora’s Papers investigation offers an unprecedented perspective on how money and power operate in the 21st century, and how financial opacity driven by the United States and other nations has shaped and broken the rule of law around the world.

The popular imagination often reduces the offshore system to a cluster of far-flung, scattered, palm-covered islands. But Pandora’s Papers show that the offshore money machine operates in every corner of the world, including the financial capitals of the richest and most powerful economies.

The findings of ICIJ and its allied media expose how top-secret finance has infiltrated international politics, and show why governments and global organizations have done so little to crack down on offshore financial abuses.

An ICIJ analysis of the secret documents identified 956 companies in this offshore system that have some sort of relationship with 336 high-level politicians, ministers, ambassadors, and others. More than two-thirds of these companies were created in the British Virgin Islands, a jurisdiction that has long been key to the offshore system.

At least $11.3 trillion is held offshore, according to a study published in 2020 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Due to the complexity and lack of transparency of this industry, it is impossible to distinguish how many of these resources are there for tax evasion or other crimes and how many have been reported to the tax authorities.

In all corners of the world

Among the people linked to offshore assets by the documents are Indian cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, pop music diva Shakira, supermodel Claudia Schiffer and an Italian mafioso known as “Lello El Gordo”.

This mobster, Raffaelle Amato, has been linked to at least a dozen murders. The leaked documents provide details of a UK-registered paper company, which Amato used to buy land in Spain shortly before fleeing Italy to set up his criminal group on the Iberian peninsula. Amato, whose story inspired the movie Gomorrah, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Amato’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment on these findings. Tendulkar’s lawyer said the cricketer’s investments are legitimate and have been declared to authorities. A lawyer for Shakira said the singer declared her offshore companies and that they did not provide tax advantages. Schiffer’s representatives said the model paid her taxes in the UK, where she resides.

In most countries, controlling offshore assets or using paper companies to do cross-border business is not illegal. People doing international business say they need such structures to conduct their financial affairs.

However, these financial affairs often channel profits from high-tax countries to companies that exist only on paper in lower tax jurisdictions. The use of these offshore lairs is particularly problematic in the case of political figures because it often consists of strategies to shield their activities from public scrutiny.

The offshore system also relies on elite institutions that serve the interests of the rich and powerful, such as multinational banks, law firms, and accounting firms based in the United States and Europe.

A Pandora’s Papers document shows, for example, that various banks have created at least 3,926 offshore companies for their clients with the assistance of Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, a Panama firm headed by a former Panamanian ambassador to the United States, Jaime Alemán. This firm, also known as Alcogal, created at least 312 companies in the British Virgin Islands for clients of Morgan Stanley, the giant of the American financial system. A Morgan Stanley spokesman said: “We do not create offshore companies… This process is independent of the firm and at the discretion and direction of each client”.

The investigation also reveals how Baker McKenzie, the largest law firm in the United States, helped create the modern offshore system and remains a pillar of this opaque economy.

Baker McKenzie and its affiliated law firms around the world have used their lobbying and lawmaking skills to craft financial laws in several countries. They have also done business for individuals and companies linked to fraud, corruption, and authoritarian regimes, ICIJ found in the investigation.

Baker McKenzie’s clients include Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyski, who U.S. authorities accuse of laundering $5.5 billion through a network of paper corporations by buying industrial and commercial properties in the heartland of the United States.

Baker McKenzie also worked for financier Jho Low, who is currently on the run, accused in several countries of masterminding a $4.5 billion mega-fraud of a Malaysian economic development fund known as 1MDB. The ICIJ investigation found that Low created a network of partnerships in Malaysia and Hong Kong hand in hand with Baker McKenzie and its affiliates. U.S. authorities allege that Low used some of these partnerships to channel resources looted from 1MDB.

A Baker McKenzie spokesman said the firm seeks to provide the best tax and legal advice to its clients and strives to “ensure that our clients adhere to the law and best practices.” But he did not respond specifically to many questions about Baker McKenzie’s role in the offshore economy, citing client confidentiality and legal privilege. He added that the firm strictly checks the backgrounds of all its potential clients.

You know who

The Pandora Papers investigation is bigger and more global than ICIJ’s Panama Papers investigation that shook the world in 2016 and led to operatives, the adoption of new laws in dozens of countries and brought down prime ministers in Iceland and Pakistan.

The Panama Papers came from the files of a single offshore service provider: the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca. The Pandora Papers shed light on a much wider range of lawyers and intermediaries operating at the heart of the offshore industry.

In total, the new leak shows the real owners of more than 29,000 offshore companies. These owners come from more than 200 countries; the most numerous groups are from Russia, the United Kingdom, Argentina, China, and Brazil.

Among the 150 media that joined this collaboration are EL PAÍS, the Washington Post, the BBC, Radio France, the Indian Express, The Standard of Zimbabwe, Le Desk of Morocco, and the newspaper El Universo of Ecuador.

An international team was necessary to carry out the investigation, because the 14 offices from which the documents come have offices all over the world, from the Caribbean to the Persian Gulf, passing through the South China Sea.

In exchange for a few hundred or thousands of dollars, the offshore providers can help their clients incorporate companies whose owners remain hidden. Or, for an amount ranging from $2,000 to $25,000, they can create a trust that, in some cases, allows their beneficiaries to manage their money while creating the legal fiction that they do not control it; a creative way to use a piece of paper to hide assets from potential creditors, police, tax agents or ex-spouses.

Offshore industry operators do not act in isolation. They work hand in hand with other service providers to weave layers of companies and trusts around the world. The more complex the structures, the higher the costs, but also the greater the opacity and protection for clients.

The Pandora Papers show that an English accountant based in Switzerland worked for hand in hand with lawyers in the British Virgin Islands to help Jordan’s King Abdullah II secretly buy 14 houses in the United States and the United Kingdom for more than $106 million. His advisors helped him set up at least 36 paper companies between 1995 and 2017.

In 2017, the King bought, through a British Virgin Islands partnership, a $23 million property overlooking a surfer’s beach in California. The King made an extra payment for another BVI company, controlled by advisors to his wealth in Switzerland, to act as nominee – or paper – director for the company that acquired the property.

In the offshore world, nominee directors are people or companies paid to act as a front instead of the person who is actually behind a company. A form from Alcogal, the firm that worked for the King, stated that the use of nominee directors would help “preserve privacy by preventing the identity of the beneficial owner (…) from being accessible to the public.” Internal emails show that Alcogal and the Swiss advisor also discussed ways to avoid disclosing the monarch’s name to the BVI authorities. In emails, the offshore advisers referred to him in code: “You know who.”

British lawyers for the King said Jordanian law does not require him to pay taxes, and that he has security and privacy reasons for controlling property through offshore companies. They said the monarch never embezzled public funds. The lawyers also said that most of the companies and properties identified by ICIJ have no connection to the King or no longer exist, but did not elaborate.

Experts believe that as the leader of one of the poorest and most foreign aid-dependent countries in the Middle East, the King has reason not to flaunt his wealth. “If the King of Jordan were to display his wealth more openly it would not only generate antagonism among his population, but anger the Western backers who gave him money,” Annelle Sheline, an expert on political and religious authorities in the Middle East, told ICIJ.

In neighboring Lebanon, where similar debates have arisen regarding wealth and poverty, the Pandora Papers show that figures at the highest political and financial levels also used tax havens.

They include the current prime minister, Najib Mikati, and his predecessor Hassan Diab. The country’s one-time anti-corruption czar, Muhammad Baasiri, also appears, as does Riad Salameh, the head of the Central Bank, who is under investigation in France for alleged money laundering.

Marwane Keireddine, Lebanon’s former minister of state and chairman of Al Mawarid Bank, also appears among the secret documents. In 2019, he scolded his former fellow lawmakers for their inaction in the face of the terrible economic crisis. Half the population was living in poverty, struggling to find food as bakeries and stores closed. “There is tax evasion and the government needs to act,” Kheireddine said at the time.

The Pandora Papers reveal that, in the same year, Kheireddine signed documents as owner of a British Virgin Islands company that controls a two million dollar yacht. His bank, moreover, is one of many in the country that restricted its clients from withdrawals in dollars to mitigate the economic crisis.

“All my life’s efforts went in vain. I have worked non-stop for the past three decades,” Wafaa Abou Hamdam, a 57-year-old widow who lost all her savings to inflation, told one of the local media working with ICIJ. “We are still struggling daily to survive” while “politicians and bankers (…) who took our savings transferred and invested their money abroad.”

Kheireddine and Diab did not respond to requests for comment. In a written response, Salameh said he reports his assets and has complied with all obligations under Lebanese law. Mitaki’s son, Maher, said it is common for people in Lebanon to use offshore companies “given the easy incorporation process,” and not out of a desire to evade taxes.

A coalition of the corrupt

Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricket superstar who became prime minister with a strong anti-corruption speech, was excited when the ICIJ Panama Papers came to light, in April 2016. “Leaks are God-sent,” he said.

That leak revealed that the sons of Pakistan’s then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, had links to at least three offshore companies. It allowed Khan to sink Sharif, his political rival, by singling him out as part of the “coalition of the corrupt” tearing Pakistan apart.

“It’s disgusting the way money is looted from the developing world, from people who have already been deprived of basic services: health, education, justice and employment,” he told ICIJ partner The Guardian in 2016. “This money is funneled into offshore accounts, or in Western countries, in Western banks. Poor countries get poorer and rich countries to get richer. Offshore accounts protect these thieves.”

As a result of an investigation stemming from the Panama Papers, the Supreme Court of Pakistan removed Sharif from office. Khan succeeded in replacing him in the next national election.

Now, the Pandora Papers are once again drawing attention to the use of offshore companies by Pakistani political actors.

This time they reveal the offshore operations of people close to Khan, including one of his financial backers, and relatives of his finance minister. The documents also show that Khan’s water resources minister, Chaudry Moonis Elahi, had contacts in 2016 with offshore executives in Singapore to invest more than $30 million. Elahi did not respond to requests for comment on this investment. Khan did not respond to questions about the members in his close circle, but his spokesperson said that Khan’s administration has made transparency and accountability a priority and that they have increased the number of public officials required to disclose their financial assets.

Other political figures around the world have spoken out against the offshore system while surrounded by associates or close associates who control assets held offshore. Some have even used the system personally.

“All assets of public servants should be publicly declared so that people can question and ask: What is legitimate?” the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, told a BBC interviewer in 2018. “If they cannot explain themselves, and I include myself, then there is a case to be made.”

The leaked files exhibit Kenyatta and his mother as beneficiaries of a secret foundation in Panama. Others in his family, including his brother and two sisters, control five offshore companies with assets of more than $30 million, according to the documents. Kenyatta and his family did not answer a questionnaire seeking their comments on the matter.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, one of the richest people in his country, came to power on a promise to attack tax evasion and corruption. In 2011, as he became more involved in politics, Babis expressed to his voters his desire to build a country “where entrepreneurs will do business and be happy to pay taxes.”

Leaked documents show that, in 2009, Babis injected $22 million into a chain of paper companies to buy a sprawling property, known as Chateau Bigaud, in a village near Cannes. A year later, French records show he acquired, through another Monaco paper company, seven properties a few miles from the chateau, including a two-story villa with a swimming pool and garage.

Babis did not include these paper companies and properties in the asset declarations he is required to publish as a public servant, according to documents obtained by Investigate.cz, ICIJ’s partner in the Czech Republic. In 2018, a real estate conglomerate indirectly controlled by Babis bought the Monaco companies that owned the castle and villa.

A spokesperson for the conglomerate told ICIJ that the company complies with legal requirements. He did not answer questions about Babis’ acquisition of the properties. “Like any other business entity, we have the right to protect our trade secrets,” he wrote. Babis did not respond to our requests for comment.

Haven for scams

The secret documents allow us to contrast certain public pronouncements expressed this year about wealth, inequality, and offshore havens, at a time when the world’s governments are battling falling revenues, a pandemic, climate change, and citizen distrust.

Last February, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change urged decision-makers to promote, among other measures, higher taxes on land and residences. Blair, the institute’s founder and executive chairman, spoke of how the wealthy and well-connected have dodged paying taxes since at least 1994 when he campaigned to become the leader of the U.K. Labour Party.

“For those who can afford the right accountants, the tax system is a haven for scams, benefits … and profits,” he said during a speech in the West Midlands. “We should not turn our tax laws into a playground for tax dodgers, who pay little or nothing while others pay more than their fair share.”

The Pandora Papers show that, in 2017, Blair and his wife, Cherie, became owners of a Victorian building valued at $8.8 million when they acquired a British Virgin Islands company that controlled the property. The building, located in London, is now the headquarters of Cherie Blair’s law firm.

By purchasing the shares of the company instead of the building, the Blairs benefited from a legal arrangement that allowed them to avoid paying more than $400,000 in property taxes.

Cherie Blair said her husband was not involved in the transaction, the purpose of which – according to her – was to “bring the company and the building into the UK legal and regulatory regime.” She also said that she “did not want to own a BVI company” and that “the seller, for personal reasons, only wanted to sell the company”. The company is now closed.

“These are loopholes that can be exploited by the rich but not by other people,” Robert Palmer, executive director of the Tax Justice Network, told The Guardian. “Politicians must fix the tax system so that everyone pays their fair share.”

In June, Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes proposed a tax reform that would see a new tax of almost 30% on profits made through offshore entities. Experts estimate that Brazil’s wealthiest control is close to $200 billion in offshore entities, not subject to taxation.

“You shouldn’t feel ashamed for being rich,” Guedes said. “You should be ashamed for not paying taxes.”

After bankers and business leaders opposed the tax increase in the legislation, Guedes, also a billionaire and former banker, agreed to remove the tax on offshore profits. Negotiations on tax reform are still ongoing.

Pandora’s Papers reveal that Guedes created the company Dreadnoughts International Group in 2014 in the British Virgin Islands.

In response to Piauí magazine, ICIJ’s partner in Brazil, a spokesperson for Guedes said the minister declared the company to Brazilian authorities. The spokesperson did not provide documents to prove it and did not answer a question about the removal of the tax on offshore assets in the legislation.

Pandora’s box

In December 2018, the Bahamas launched legislation requiring companies and some trusts to declare who their beneficial owners are to a government registry office. The island nation was under pressure from larger countries, including the United States, to expel tax evaders and criminals from the offshore financial system.

Some Bahamian politicians opposed the initiative. They complained that the registry would scare away some wealthy Latin American clients who would stop doing business in the Caribbean. “The winners of these new standards are the states of Delaware, Alaska, and South Dakota in the United States,” said a local lawyer.

Months later, at the beginning of 2019, the family of the former vice president of the Dominican Republic, Carlos Morales, stopped using the Bahamas – where they had some assets – as a refuge for their fortune. They chose a new place located 2,500 kilometers away from there: Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Pandora Papers reveal movements of tens of millions of dollars from tax havens in the Caribbean and Europe to South Dakota, a sparsely populated U.S. state that has become an attractive destination for foreign assets.

The Morales family did not respond to questions about the movement of their assets from the Bahamas to South Dakota.

In the last decade, South Dakota, Nevada, and more than a dozen other U.S. entities have transformed themselves into leaders in the financial secrecy industry. At the same time, the most powerful countries have kept their attention, and that of their authorities, on “traditional” tax havens, such as the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and other island paradises.

The United States is one of the biggest players in the offshore world. It is also the country best positioned to crack down on offshore financial abuses, thanks to the central role it plays in the international banking system. As the dollar is the de facto global currency, most international transactions flow to and from New York-based banking centers.

Over the past two decades, U.S. authorities have taken action to compel banks in Switzerland and other countries to turn over information about U.S. bank account holders in their jurisdictions.

But the U.S. is more interested in compelling other countries to turn over information about Americans’ offshore banking operations than in sharing information about money moving through bank accounts, paper companies, and trusts registered in its own country.

In 2014, the United States refused to join an agreement supported by more than 100 jurisdictions-including the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg-that would have forced U.S. financial institutions to share information they hold about the assets of foreign individuals.

Year after year in South Dakota, local legislators have passed laws designed by trust industry lobbyists that provide increasing protections and benefits to trust clients, whether U.S. or foreign. The value of assets held in South Dakota trusts soared more than fourfold in the last decade to $360 billion. One major trust company boasts that it has clients from 54 countries and 47 U.S. states, including more than 100 billionaires.

In 2020, 17 of the world’s 20 most lax trust jurisdictions belonged to U.S. states, according to a study by Israeli academic Adam Hofri-Winogradow. In many cases, U.S. laws have placed obstacles in the way of creditors recovering what belonged to them, such as child support payments.

Based on Pandora’s Papers documents, ICIJ and the Washington Post identified nearly 30 U.S.-based trusts linked to foreign individuals accused of wrongdoing or whose companies have been flagged for malpractice. Prominent among them is Guillermo Lasso, the banker who was elected president of Ecuador last April. Leaked documents show that Lasso set up trusts in South Dakota four years ago, at a time when the press was reporting that he had used offshore companies to hide his interests in a bank. Lasso was not charged in this case.

Lasso said that his past use of offshore structures was “legal and legitimate” and that he complies with Ecuador’s laws prohibiting public servants from owning offshore companies.

Federico Kong Vielman, whose family is one of Guatemala’s wealthiest dynasties, is another Latin American who set up a trust in South Dakota.

In 2016, Kong Vielman moved $13.5 million to a Sioux Falls trust. Some of the money came from the family business, which makes floor wax, lipstick, and other products.

For decades, the Guatemalan press has reported the family’s ties to the political world. In the 1970s, press reports identified the family as an important ally of General Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio, then president of Guatemala, known as the Jackal of Zacapa. In 2016, the family’s luxury hotel in the capital gifted a 100-night package to then-President Jimmy Morales. The Guatemalan press suspected that this gift corresponded to payment for “political favors.”

In 2014, US labor inspectors filed a lawsuit against the Guatemalan government, including allegations that the family-owned palm oil producer underpaid its workers and exposed them to toxic chemicals. The company’s corporate records show that Kong Vielman was its treasurer.

A year later, U.S. environmental authorities provided technical assistance to Guatemala and discovered that the company had dumped pollutants into the Pasión River. The family-owned company, Nacional Agro-Industrial SA, known as Naisa, was not punished. Naisa told ICIJ that it respected the law and did not pollute the river. The labor complaint was settled in an arbitration panel, the company said. Kong Vielman declined to answer questions about the South Dakota trust.

The U.S. Corporate Transparency Act was amended this year, making it more difficult for owners of certain corporations to hide their identity, but this reform is not expected to apply to trusts used by non-U.S. citizens. Another striking exception, financial crime experts point out, is that many lawyers who set up trusts and paper companies are not required to examine the source of their client’s wealth.

“The U.S. is a big, big loophole in the world,” said Yehuda Shaffer, former head of Israel’s Financial Intelligence Unit. “It criticizes everybody else in the world, but they have very, very serious problems at home.”

“Our way of life.”

As a human rights and anti-poverty activist, Mae Buenaventura joined the fight to secure the return to the Philippines of billions of dollars that dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family members, and accomplices, stashed in Swiss bank accounts and other hard-to-trace locations.

Many, back home, “know that the rich have ways of accumulating wealth and also hiding it in such a way that ordinary people can’t come across it,” Buenaventura said.

The Marcos scandal was also a lesson to the world and encouraged efforts to track down illicit money and punish the people who hid it.

Over the past 20 years, political leaders have advocated “eradicating” tax havens. They have referred to paper companies and money laundering as “threats to our security, our democracy, and our way of life.” They have passed new laws and signed international agreements.

However, the offshore system has never stopped adapting, and cross-border crime, tax evasion, and inequality continue to thrive.

When one offshore service provider is exposed or comes under pressure from the authorities, others take advantage of their bad luck and turn it into an argument to lure their clients to flee to safer havens.

The Pandora Papers show that, after the Panama Papers, Trident Trust, one of the world’s largest offshore service providers, became the agent of record for nearly 100 companies that were previously managed by the Mossack Fonseca firm, which was wrecked by the scandal.

One of these companies was controlled by an offshore trust, whose beneficiaries included the wife of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the British Conservative Party activist and current speaker of the British Parliament.

The Pandora Papers indicate that a holding company and a trust, of which his wife Helena de Chair was a beneficiary, held “photographs and paintings” worth 3.5 million dollars.

The documents show that Trident Trust also helped the widow and two children of Indian criminal Iqbal Memon to erase the link between his offshore companies and Mossack Fonseca. The press has identified Memon as a major player in the drug trade, with links to terrorists. His widow and children are accused of laundering drug money, and authorities in New Delhi issued a warrant for his arrest in 2019.

In the Philippines, money circulating in the shadows remains a problem, despite the attention paid to Marcos’ offshore haul. In recent years, the US State Department labeled the Philippines as “one of the top money laundering jurisdictions.”

Philippine business and political figures featured in Pandora’s Papers include Juan Andres Donato Bautista, who served from 2010 to 2015 as chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, a panel created to track Marcos’ millions.

A month after his appointment to head the commission, Bautista created a paper company in the British Virgin Islands, according to leaked documents. The company, Baumann Enterprises Ltd, had a bank account in Singapore.

Bautista was later nominated to head the national election agency, but lawmakers vetoed him in 2017 after his wife claimed he collected millions of dollars in undeclared bank accounts, both in the Philippines and offshore.

In a phone call with ICIJ, Bautista said he set up the British Virgin Islands company on the advice of bankers. He declared it to Philippine authorities, and the account never received significant deposits, he said. Bautista denied any wrongdoing and said there are no formal charges against him. The allegations against him come, in part, from the Marcos family and their supporters, he said.

“You’re the guy investigating ill-gotten money, and all of a sudden you’re accused of having ill-gotten money,” he recalled thinking.

Despite the failures of the Philippines and other nations to reduce the flow of hidden money, Buenaventura and other reform pushers stress that there is a reason for hope.

After the Panama Papers, protests erupted in Iceland and Pakistan that toppled their leaders. The Philippines joined dozens of countries now requiring companies to declare their real owners. Philippine authorities have recovered nearly $4 billion that was stolen by Marcos and his circle and used it to buy land for landless peasants and to compensate relatives of people killed or victims of “enforced disappearance” by the Marcos regime.

Many obstacles remain. Big banks, law firms, and other powerful groups often oppose the implementation of stronger transparency rules and stricter controls by authorities against offshore abuses. And in the Philippines and many other countries, anti-corruption activists face legal threats, arrests, and assaults.

Last month, police fired high-pressure water cannons at protesters marching for the 49th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law, denouncing similar measures by the current government of Rodrigo Duterte.

Buenaventura said she and other activists are going to continue working to showcase the “deeply hidden” riches.

“Our motto is: the truth will come out.”

 

 

 

 

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