A slew of 13.4 million leaked documents revealed how the world’s richest men stash away billions of dollars in wealth in offshore tax havens. The revelations, known as the Paradise Papers, implicate more than a dozen of President Trump’s Cabinet members, advisers and major donors. We continue our conversation with Frederik Obermaier, co-author of the Paradise Papers. He is an investigative reporter at Germany’s leading newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. Obermaier also worked on a separate investigation, the Panama Papers, and is co-author of the book “Panama Papers: The Story of a Worldwide Revelation.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to Part 2 of our interview on the shocking revelations about how the world’s richest men stash away billions of dollars in wealth in offshore tax havens. The Paradise Papers implicate more than a dozen of President Trump’s Cabinet members, advisers, major donors, as well as the queen of England and the companies Nike, Apple, Facebook and Twitter.
We’re joined now by Frederik Obermaier, the co-author of the Paradise Papers, an investigative reporter at Germany’s leading newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. Frederik Obermaier also worked on a separate investigation, the Panama Papers, and is co-author of the book Panama Papers: The Story of a Worldwide Revelation.
In Part 2 of this conversation, Frederik, can you start off by explaining why it’s called the Paradise Papers?
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Well, actually, when we speak about tax havens, at least in Europe, we always speak about tax paradises. And as the Paradise Papers are not like the Panama Papers, focused on only one offshore provider, but on two offshore providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, we thought that the title Paradise Papers would basically bring all these topics together, because the Paradise Papers shed light on around about a fifth of all global secrecy jurisdictions. So it is many of – we show how many tax paradises are in reality tax – a tax hell.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, speaking during his confirmation hearing earlier this year.
WILBUR ROSS: I intend to be quite scrupulous about recusal in any topic where there’s the slightest scintilla of doubt.
AMY GOODMAN: He’ll go to recusal if there’s the slightest scintilla of some kind of conflict of interest. Frederik Obermaier, what does the Paradise Papers show about him?
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: The Paradise Papers show that there is indeed a huge conflict of interest in the case of Wilbur Ross, because if you profit from basically business activities with a Russian company that is owned by individuals very close to Vladimir Putin, in my opinion, that’s a huge conflict of interest. And that’s something Wilbur Ross should have made public before becoming secretary. So, I think there are –
AMY GOODMAN: Explain – explain exactly what you mean.
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: – lots of questions open that he should answer now.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what you mean. I think you’re referring to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. Explain the business that Wilbur Ross has with him.
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Well, Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, owns shares of a company called Sibur. That’s a company that is dealing, for example, in gas. And they rented ships of Navigator Holdings. So, actually, Navigator Holdings made a fortune by doing business with Sibur. And Wilbur Ross owns, via – indirectly owns, via a chain of offshore companies, owns shares in Navigator Holdings. So this means he actually profits from doing business with Putin’s son-in-law.
And given the situation that we currently do face in the U.S., that there’s a debate about Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and Russia’s role in the U.S., this is something that, in my opinion, raises suspicions, and it should at least have been made public. In my opinion, Mr. Ross should have stated clearly that there is this interest he still kept in Navigator Holdings. And he should have been aware with which companies Navigator Holdings is doing business, because Sibur is not one among hundreds of customers of Navigator Holdings, it’s one of the biggest customers. And, I mean, Mr. Ross, or at least his ministry, yesterday announced in a statement that he would not have been aware of the shareholders in Sibur. I, myself, ask the question – well, you should only have looked on their homepage. This is not hidden information. On the homepage of Sibur, you find the name of Kirill Shamalov.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who we also discussed for a moment in Part 1 of our conversation. During his confirmation hearing earlier this year, the former Goldman Sachs executive defended himself against accusations he used a tax haven in the Cayman Islands in order to avoid paying taxes.
STEVEN MNUCHIN: Let me just be clear again: I did not use the Cayman Island entity in any way to avoid taxes for myself. I paid U.S. taxes on all that income, OK? So, there was no benefit to me from the Cayman entity. As I said, the Cayman entity was set up to accommodate nonprofit and pension funds that want to invest through offshore in a certain number of offshore –
AMY GOODMAN: So, Frederik Obermaier, can you respond to what Mnuchin said, now that you know what you know from the Paradise Papers?
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Well, in his case, if we look closely, we do see that the bank he worked for before, that they actively helped their customers to go offshore, meaning that they helped them to set up complex structures to avoid taxes, for example, to be paid when you buy an airplane. So, even if he did not personally benefit from it, the bank he worked for actively helped to set up such structures. And I think this is also something that should be public, that he should have addressed, because, I mean, helping to set up those structures means also to help people to not pay taxes, for example, in countries like the U.S.
AMY GOODMAN: Goldman Sachs, the address, 85 Broad Street, links to Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who served as president or vice president of 22 companies based in Bermuda between 2002 and 2006, while he was at Goldman Sachs. The registered addresses of all 22 Bermuda-based companies were 86 Broad Street in Manhattan, then the headquarters of Goldman Sachs.
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Well, it shows again that within the Trump administration there are many people and many individuals that did either do offshore business or helped others to do so. And given the fact that Mr. Trump tries to promote get corporations back to the U.S., back from secrecy jurisdictions, I think this shows – or at least I would question if everyone in his administration really supports this course. And in my opinion, it shows again that so many richest and powerful businessmen did offshore business activities. And this is something that needs to be investigated by the public, by journalists, because it’s an important issue.
I personally do see a danger for democracy, if there is a small minority, a small elite, that can afford to go offshore and therefore avoid or evade taxes, but at the same time that the majority does have to pay taxes. And if they have the feeling there is the rich 1 percent that doesn’t stick to the same rules as they have, this may help populist movements to grow even bigger than they are already now.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does the queen of England have to do with this story?
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Well, the queen of England actually, I suppose without her knowing it, indirectly invested in offshore funds. So, when we and other colleagues approached her and her officials, they claimed that they would have not known where actually the investment went to. And as far as ’til now, we don’t have any contradictory information that she would have really personally known where she’s investing to. But it shows that if you do invest money, you should have a close look where you do invest, because many of the world – a big amount of the money invested worldwide is funded through secrecy jurisdictions. And this is, of course, something the public should know and the public should discuss.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, I know you have to go off to another interview, but I wanted to ask you about what happened last month in Malta. The investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated when a powerful bomb planted in her car exploded near her home in the Mediterranean island nation. She spent much of her time over the last two years reporting on revelations about Malta from the Panama Papers, that trove of more than 11 million leaked files that reveal how the rich and powerful in a number of countries used tax havens to hide their wealth. No claim of responsibility for the blast, although local media reported that Galizia filed a police report in early October to report on death threats. Can you talk about her assassination?
FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Well, Daphne Galizia was a brave journalist who stood up in Malta in the fight against corruption, fighting for more transparency. She was very outspoken, and she addressed a few issues many people in the government in Malta did not want to speak about. She was, I think, not an easy – like an easy reporter to deal with for Maltese – for the Maltese government and businessmen, because she always pointed her finger where it hurts. And it is a tragic loss that she was killed, but I personally do hope that other Maltese journalists now keep up the work and do investigate the stories she worked on before she was killed.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Frederik Obermaier, co-author of the Paradise Papers, investigative reporter at Germany’s leading newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung.Obermaier also worked on the separate investigation, Panama Papers, and co-authored the book Panama Papers: The Story of a Worldwide Revelation. Thanks so much for being here.
Part 1 is online at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.