Offshore sector clashes with media over Paradise Papers fallout

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The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has come under renewed attack from members of the offshore finance industry following its role in the publication of law firm Appleby’s client data in November last year.

The ongoing and fierce debate over the publication of the so-called “Paradise Papers” was played out most recently at the Offshore Alert conference in Miami on Monday, despite there being no representatives present from Appleby.

Instead, the company’s global managing partner, Michael O’Connell, issued a statement, published in a report in the Cayman Compass newspaper, accusing journalists of “publishing stolen, privileged property and breaching client confidentiality without justification.”

‘Major violation’
O’Connell said the media continue “to appear to give no consideration as to whether the documents give rise to any matter of public interest or that they raise matters of sufficient importance to justify the major violation of confidence, privilege and privacy.”

Appleby’s allegations are reflective of its current lawsuit against the BBC and Guardian newspaper, whereby the firm is suing for breach of confidence and is seeking a permanent injunction against further use of any of the documents.

The ICIJ insists the Appleby papers were made available via a leak from an insider, which the company denies. O’Connell yesterday said his firm was deliberately targeted by a highly sophisticated cyberattack.

In a strongly worded leader published yesterday, the Cayman Compass described as “nonsense” the idea that the trove of documents should be hailed as “examples of impact-oriented journalism.”

‘We deplore and condemn the practice of publishing stolen documents’
The editorial goes on to condemn the “near-universal chorus of self-congratulatory applause from within the media industry,” writing that “We deplore and condemn the practice of publishing stolen privileged documents and correspondence between law firms and their clients. Appleby, a victim of the latest theft, appropriately is suing.

The forthright leader continues: “One of the most shocking aspects of the reports on the Panama Papers – and the Paradise Papers – is the dearth of demonstrable illegal activity that has been uncovered. After all, the troves of information turned over to the ICIJ included decades’ worth of documents on the innermost workings of sprawling law firms Mossack Fonseca (in Panama) and Appleby (based in Bermuda).”

The paper takes on the ICIJ directly: “Someone needs to remind the ICIJ and its media members that there is a right of privacy central to the most basic concept of human rights.”

Some 13.4m documents were taken from Appleby in 2017, in what the company describes as “theft”. Here is one of the earliest reports on the Paradise Papers, from International Investment’s coverage.

Author spotlight

Christopher Copper-Ind

Christopher Copper-Ind is editor-in-chief of International Investment. Before this, he was editorial director of The Business Year, from 2014 to 2017.