A cache of 1.3 million files concerning more than 175,000 companies registered in the Bahamas has been released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists - the same group which revealed the Panama Papers.
The documents name offshore companies, trusts and foundations registered in the Caribbean nation between 1990 and early this year, list their date of creation, physical and mailing addresses and, in some cases, company directors and owners.
Documents were first leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and subsequently shared with the ICIJ, much like the Panama Papers cache released earlier this year. The Times of Malta is a media partner of the ICIJ.
The 38 GB leak has enabled the ICIJ to create the first free, publicly searchable database of offshore companies set up in the Bahamas, with it saying that the country’s existing online registry is “often incomplete” and subject to a fee of at least $10 per search.
Data is not as detailed as that made available in the Panama Papers leak, the ICIJ said in a statement announcing the new document cache.
“The new data does not make it clear, for example, whether directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm truly control the company or act as nominees,” it cited by way of example. A nominee serves as the face of a company without actually being involved in its operations.
Mossack Fonseca – the corporate intermediary whose documents the Panama Papers leak was based on – features prominently in the database, with the Bahamas its third-busiest jurisdiction.
But the corporate service provider is not alone, with 539 registered agents named throughout the documents.
Who is named?
With some 1.3 million files published, it will take time for journalists at the ICIJ and its partner organisations to sift through the documents.
Some prominent names have however already been identified.
Former EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes spent six years between 2004 and 2010 as the EU’s corporate enforcer, hounding big corporations and warning them they couldn’t “run away” from the EU’s rules.
But the ICIJ leak shows that Ms Kroes was also listed as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas from 2000 to 2009 – something she never disclosed.
Ms Kroes has denied any wrongdoing, saying she did not declare her directorship because the company was never operational and blaming a “clerical oversight” for her name continuing to appear on records until 2009.
EU rules state that commissioners must declare all their economic interests in the previous 10 years.
Former Colombian energy minister Carlos Caballero Argáez is also named in the files, with his name appearing as president and secretary of one Bahamian company between 1997 and 2008, and director of another between 1990 and 2015.
Mr Argaez, who served in cabinet between 1999 and 2001, has denied any conflict of interest and said the decision to establish the company in the Bahamas was made following legal advice and for “tax purposes”.
Other politically exposed persons named in the newly-leaked documents include no fewer than four current and former energy ministers for Equatorial Guinea, as well as the brother of that nation’s first lady.
The shady side to the sunny Bahamas
The Bahamas has been on tax officials’ radar for close to a century, with US revenue officials having started investigations into Americans hiding money there back in the 1930s.
The OECD lists the country on its ‘gray list’ of tax avoiding jurisdictions – an improvement from its 2000 blacklisting, but still signifying significant nonconformity with international standards.
In June 2015, the EU listed the Bahamas as being one of 30 countries it considered to be uncooperative tax havens.
Bahamian authorities told the ICIJ that the country “does not tolerate dirty money” and that it honoured its international obligations.
The Caribbean nation’s name has cropped up in schemes concerning kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government under the UN oil-for-food programme, as well as in graft cases involving former politicians from Greece, Ukraine, Kuwait and Trinidad and Tobago.
It is frequently named as one of the world's most prominent offshore jurisdictions, with Nicholas Shaxson, the author of Trasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole The World, saying the country "has long taken an attitude of selective noncompliance with its own laws, and it is now pushing out this message with a nudge, nudge, wink, wink."
The Bahamas also featured prominently in many investigations prompted by the Panama Papers leak.
Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri was among those revealed to have been a director at a Bahamian company during his time as mayor of Buenos Aires. He denied any wrongdoing, saying he held no financial interest in the company.
The Bahamas is also where the father of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron established an investment fund which avoided paying tax in the UK. Mr Cameron subsequently admitted that he financially benefited from the arrangement.