Some prominent names in the Philippines emerged in a far-reaching new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) media consortium, which found that more than a dozen heads of state and government around the world are using offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The so-called “Pandora Papers” investigation — involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian — is based on the leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.
Some 35 current and former leaders are featured in the latest vast trove of documents analyzed by the ICIJ — facing allegations ranging from corruption to money laundering and global tax avoidance.
At home, the report found that the purpose of majority of offshore accounts linked to the Philippines are unknown, while most names of individuals do not show up in publicly available records and search engines.
ICIJ partnered with Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Rappler for the local report.
The names of the heirs of late retail tycoon Henry Sy Sr. appeared in 10 offshore firms in British Virgin Islands, where more than two-thirds of the companies tracked by ICIJ were set up.
The Gaisano family, another well-known mall owner in the country, were tied to 12 companies.
Other prominent names that showed up in the report were some members of the Aboitiz family and the Gatchalian family, which controls the Wellex Group. The logistics firm of Davao-based tycoon Dennis Uy was also on the list.
Meanwhile, names of at least 31 lawyers were also included in the report, with some holding key positions in publicly-listed companies here, documents showed.
Notably, the name of one government official showed up in the report: Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade. According to PCIJ, Tugade has been listed as a director of British Virgin Islands-based firm Solart Holdings Limited, but he did not declare it in any of the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) he has filed since holding public office.
Documents showed the transportation chief has been holding that position in Solart Holdings since 2007. PCIJ reported that Tugade has disclosed “offshore investments” worth P57 million as assets every year since 2012, “but no details about these investments have been declared, except these were acquired in 2003.”
In most countries, the ICIJ stresses, it is not illegal to have assets offshore or to use shell companies to do business across national borders. But such revelations are no less of an embarrassment for leaders who may have campaigned publicly against tax avoidance and corruption, or advocated austerity measures at home.