Only a fool would believe the richest people in the world play by the same rules as the rest of us, especially when it comes to the payment of tax. But just how successfully the financial elite avoid paying their fair share was exposed with a data leak known as the Paradise Papers earlier this month.
The information – millions of confidential documents and files mostly from Bermuda-based law firm Appleby – was actually leaked more than a year earlier to journalists at German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. What took so long to get the news out there? Vice and HBO joined forces to show us in Paradise Papers: The Secret Investigation, which follows the lengthy process of putting the story together.
The story was too big for Süddeutsche Zeitung to handle
With more than 13 million documents involved, it quickly became apparent that the investigative journalism department of one newspaper wasn’t going to be able to cope on its own. That was when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists got involved, with almost 400 journalists from around the world coming on board to follow leads and coordinate a story that could break simultaneously around the world.
The investigative work was painstaking and methodical
Besides the fact that there were so many documents to sort through proving a mammoth task, there was also the complicating factor that many of the files were images and other documents that weren’t machine readable – and therefore searchable. Each file had to be gone through so the relevant text could be pulled out. Then, all that information had to be pieced together like a massive puzzle. It was a huge undertaking that required patience and systematic attention to detail.
It was a dangerous story to pursue
As one reporter interviewed jests, if you get on the wrong side of Donald Trump, he’ll tweet about you and your “fake news”. But in other countries, investigative journalism is a deadly occupation. A Russian reporter details the ways in which he varies his routine to avoid being followed – and he’s not just being paranoid.
The data revealed crucial evidence connected to other investigations
As well as establishing that a lot of super-rich individuals and major multi-national corporations don’t shoulder their fair share of the burden to contribute to society, the Paradise Papers also brought some other interesting facts to light. Previously unknown links between members of President Trump’s administration and Vladimir Putin’s inner circle were revealed, casting new light on that other major investigation currently underway. It also called into question the desire of Trump’s team to make America great again if they were actively moving money out of the country and, at times, investing in companies that competed with US ones.
As the publication date loomed, things got tense
The most exciting part of the documentary, naturally, is when the publication date of 5 November 2017 drew close. As a group of journalists travelled to Bermuda to get a comment from Appleby, others sent out questions to people named in the documents for their response. You get a real sense of a major story about to break and the months of painstaking work about to all pay off.
Watch Paradise Papers: The Secret Investigation tonight at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND.