Leaked documents on more than 27,000 companies and 29,000 beneficial owners were released by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on 3 October, its third such data foray into international financial centres.
The so-called Pandora Papers, which follow the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, has shifted its focus to the world of politics with details of 35 current and former world leaders, more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories.
The Pandora Papers information comprised 2.94 terabytes in more than 11.9m records which came from 14 providers that offered services in at least 38 jurisdictions.
In what it further described as "the biggest journalism partnership in history", the ICIJ said the secret documents exposed offshore dealings 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 detailed financial activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "unofficial minister of propaganda" and more than 130 billionaires from Russia, the United States, Turkey and other nations.
The ICIJ said: "The leaked records reveal that many of the power players who could help bring an end to the offshore system instead benefit from it - stashing assets in covert companies and trusts while their governments do little to slow a global stream of illicit money that enriches criminals and impoverishes nations."
It obtained more than 11.9 million confidential files and led a team of more than 600 journalists from 150 news outlets that spent two years sifting through them, tracking down hard-to-find sources and digging into court records and other public documents from dozens of countries.
The leaked records came from 14 offshore services firms from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore nooks for clients often seeking to keep their financial activities in the shadows. The records include information about the dealings of nearly three times as many current and former country leaders as any previous leak of documents from offshore havens.
The ICIJ said: "The records include an unprecedented amount of information on so-called beneficial owners of entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, Panama, South Dakota and other secrecy jurisdictions. They also contain information on the shareholders, directors and officers. In addition to the rich, the famous and the infamous, those exposed by the leak include people who don't represent a public interest and who don't appear in our reporting, such as small business owners, doctors and other, usually affluent, individuals away from the public spotlight.
"While some of the files date to the 1970s, most of those reviewed by ICIJ were created between 1996 and 2020. They cover a wide range of matters: the creation of shell companies, foundations and trusts; the use of such entities to purchase real estate, yachts, jets and life insurance; their use to make investments and to move money between bank accounts; estate planning and other inheritance issues; and the avoidance of taxes through complex financial schemes. Some documents are tied to financial crimes, including money laundering."
It added: "The 11.9 million-plus records were largely unstructured. More than half of the files (6.4 million) were text documents, including more than 4 million PDFs, some of which ran to more than 10,000 pages. The documents included passports, bank statements, tax declarations, company incorporation records, real estate contracts and due diligence questionnaires. There were also more than 4.1 million images and emails in the leak."