The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists created a database of users of international tax havens over the weekend, and the group reported Monday that database received 2 million page views in its first 24 hours of operation.
Reporters, researchers and citizens from around the world flocked to the massive interactive ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database after the ICIJ, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, opened the database to the public on Saturday morning.
The group originally began probing the cache of documents in April, which led to exposures of prominent public figures using the offshore tax havens (see Documents Shed Light on Widespread Use of Tax Havens). The ICIJ analyzed a computer hard drive packed with corporate data, personal information and emails. The information came to light when ICIJ director Gerard Ryle investigated a financial scandal in Australia involving offshore tax havens and corporate fraud.
The ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database allows users to search through more than 100,000 secret companies, trusts and funds created in offshore locales including the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands and Singapore. The data are part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked files ICIJ analyzed with 112 journalists in 58 countries. The Offshore Leaks web app was developed by La Nacion newspaper in Costa Rica for ICIJ. Since April 3, ICIJ’s stories based on the database have prompted high-profile resignations, including a prominent Austrian banker, increased discussion of tax-haven policies in the European Union, and triggered official investigations in the Philippines, India, Greece and South Korea.
“The overwhelming response to the Offshore Leaks Database demonstrates the public's desire to pull back the curtain on the secretive work of offshore companies,” Ryle said in a statement. “This system needs transparency because, without it, fraud, tax evasion and other forms of corruption will undoubtedly thrive.”
The database had nearly 230,000 visits on its first day, with the most visitors from Germany, Belgium, Canada, Spain and the U.S.
The group acknowledged that there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts, and the ICIJ said it does not suggest or imply that the people and companies included in the database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.
Tax evasion has become a central theme of this week's G8 meetings, with British Prime Minister David Cameron saying it's time “to knock down the walls of company secrecy” that make the offshore system attractive to criminals. However, according to a Reuters report, the draft statement that is being circulated at the G8 Summit in Belfast, Ireland, has been watered down and will not require multinational corporations to report on their profits, revenue and tax payments on a country-by-country basis.