No fewer than 1,271 Belgian names have been uncovered in the so-called Pandora Papers, the latest collection of documents relating to worldwide use of tax shelters.
The Pandora Papers, in many ways the follow-up to the Panama Papers, were leaked to the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism, which has three Belgian members: Kristof Clerix of Knack magazine, Lars Bové of De Tijd and Alain Guillaume of Le Soir.
The 11.9 million documents come from 14 lawyers’ offices in countries which make a speciality of helping rich people set up fake companies in tax shelters, where their money can be harboured without coming under the scrutiny of local tax authorities.
The papers identify some 29,000 such letterbox companies, sometimes hundreds registered to one mailbox address, which have no commercial purpose other than to mask the earnings of the wealthy from the eyes of the tax authorities – and by extension from the eyes of legitimate taxpayers back home.
A number of names have trickled out of the investigation so far: the pop singer Shakira, pop legend Elton John and former UK prime minister Tony Blair among them.
It should be said that such named individuals may not necessarily be guilty of financial misconduct themselves. The immensely rich do not often take care of their own financial affairs and the immediate fault may lie with advisers.
But the practice is so widespread that even the most hands-off client should be wary of the possibility.
According to initial reports, the 1,217 Belgian names in the Pandora Papers show few matches with the 728 names of Belgians turned up in the earlier Panama Papers, again illustrating the extent of the problem.
The names themselves have not been revealed, but investigators have spoken of “a crime writer, a surgeon, a professor, a mental coach, the owner of an investment guide, a Brussels rapper, a former first-class football player, a meat fraudster, a radio host, the manager of a gambling company, a convicted hashish dealer and even a young bitcoin millionaire.”
The list also includes several nobles, 22 lawyers all using the same address on Avenue Louise in Brussels, a 16-year-old Brussels girl and a 90-year-old Antwerp woman with an address for her money in the Bahamas.