Appleby to sue the Guardian and BBC Panorama over Paradise Papers ‘theft’

The Bermuda law firm at the heart of the Paradise Papers data breach has announced that it is suing the Guardian newspaper and BBC Panorama for “breach of confidence” and demanding that the documents be ‘disclosed’.

Appleby said that the breach of a reported six million documents that led to widespread reporting on tax dodging enabled by the offshore adviser was “a criminal act”.

It said it would be seeking damages over the breach.

The BBC and the Guardian said they would “vigorously” defend the revelations, which were in the “highest public interest”.

The two UK media outlets are the UK members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Other members of the organisation include Le Monde in France, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, which originally obtained the data before sharing it with fellow ICIJ members, and the New York Times.

Stories that emerged from the breach caused great embarrassment to those involved, including the Queen, who was found to be holding assets offshore, three stars of the sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys and Lewis Hamilton, pictured above, who was found to have arcane arrangements for leasing a jet and a motorhome via the Isle of Man that appeared designed to avoid tax, as reported by International Investment.

The reports have also caused an HMRC enquiry into VAT arrangements on the Isle of Man and provoked the ire of EU finance commissioner Pierre Moscovici.

Revelations were in ‘the highest public interest’

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC will strongly defend its role and conduct in the Paradise Papers project. Our serious and responsible journalism is resulting in revelations which are clearly of the highest public interest and has revealed matters which would otherwise have remained secret. Already we are seeing authorities taking action as a consequence.”

The Guardian said that it could confirm that a claim has been issued against it.

“The claim does not challenge the truth of the stories we published,” said a spokesperson.

“Instead it is an attempt to undermine our responsible public interest journalism and to force us to to disclose documents that we regard as journalistic material.

“This claim could have serious consequences for investigative journalism in the UK.

“Ninety-six of the world’s most respected media organisations concluded there was significant public interest in undertaking the Paradise Papers project and hundreds of articles have been published in recent weeks as a result of the work undertaken by partners.

“We will be defending ourselves vigorously against this claim as we believe our reporting was responsible and a matter of legitimate public interest.”

For its part, Appleby said it was “obliged to take legal action”.

It said: “Our overwhelming responsibility is to our clients and our own colleagues who have had their private and confidential information taken in what was a criminal act. We need to know firstly which of their – and our – documents were taken.

“We would want to explain in detail to our clients and our colleagues the extent to which their confidentiality has been attacked. Despite repeated requests the journalists have failed to provide to us copies of the stolen documents they claim to have seen. For this reason, Appleby is obliged to take legal action in order to ascertain what information has been stolen.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eugene Costello
Eugene Costello has been a journalist for some 20 years, and has written for a wide variety of UK and international newspapers and magazines.

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