There is nothing illegal about moving money offshore. To begin with, during the 1970s it was a way of moving cash around at a time of widespread currency controls across Europe.
Buying and selling dollars, for instance, was much easier for banks if the trades were done offshore. If you lived in a country where a corrupt or predatory government might seize your assets, then moving your wealth offshore to protect it also made sense.
But the offshore industry has evolved substantially since then. And the secrecy surrounding it has become increasingly unpalatable for world leaders, who have been calling for more transparency; David Cameron and Barack Obama chief among them.
The US president said on Tuesday that "global tax avoidance generally is a huge problem", adding: "The problem is that a lot of this stuff is legal, not illegal." Cameron has also criticised complex offshore structures, saying they are "not fair and not right". The UK prime minister is due to hold an international conference on tax avoidance next month.The Panama Papers reveal the names of many wealthy and well-known individuals who have had offshore dealings through companies provided by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the leak. That does not mean they have done anything wrong.
But in the current political climate it raises legitimate questions about why they have done so, what benefit they were hoping for, and whether they will continue to use such vehicles in light of our disclosures.
There is nothing to suggest that any of those named below sheltered, or sought to shelter, money or assets offshore to avoid tax or for any unlawful purpose.
The music tycoon is the sole shareholder of two British Virgin Islands (BVI) companies called Southstreet Limited, set up in February 2007, and Eaststreet Limited, set up in October 2007. The companies were set up at a time when Cowell was planning to purchase two plots of land in Barbados, where he holidays most years.
The land is part of a major development near the famous Sandy Lane hotel, which regularly hosts celebrities. Other plots in the development were reportedly snapped up by the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and former Formula One team boss Eddie Jordan. Buyers reportedly paid between £6m and £11m for plots, with Cowell paying more because he bought two sites.
Neither Lord Lloyd-Webber nor Jordan appears in the Mossack Fonseca data and there is no suggestion that they have offshore holdings.
The building project has been mired in financial disputes, with construction falling far behind schedule. Neither of Cowell’s companies was ever used, and both are now dormant.
Cowell’s spokesman said: “The companies were set up, not by my client, but by accountants acting for him as a common means for an overseas investor to purchase property in Barbados. My client, however, preferred to purchase them transparently in his own name. Therefore, the companies were never used for anything at all. I can also confirm on behalf of my client that he has not used any offshore companies for any purpose whatsoever.”
Under Barbadian law, companies incorporated outside Barbados must be registered as an “external company” before they can own real estate on the Caribbean island. One of the companies – Southstreet – was registered in Barbados in March 2007, shortly after the British Virgin Islands company was established.
Using an offshore company to own land in Barbados can avoid stamp duty of about 1 per cent and a property transfer tax of about 2.5 per cent when the land is sold on. There is no suggestion that Cowell sought or did benefit from this.
The X Factor boss says he pays tax all over the world: “Whenever I got knocked for what I do, I always say, well I do pay my taxes, and it helps, and I’m quite proud of that, here and all over the world.”
Cowell has achieved worldwide success, with his television formats appearing around the globe. He started the X Factor in 2004, and Britain's Got Talent debuted in 2007. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, Cowell is worth about £325m.
The Chelsea superstar was the sole shareholder in a BVI company called Saxon Sponsoring Limited, which was set up in September 2013. His address in the UK was given as Chelsea's training ground in Cobham, Surrey.
A spokesman for the midfielder – whose full name is Willian Borges da Silva – said the company had lain dormant before being closed down last year.
Willian signed for Chelsea in August 2013, making his debut in September. A spokesman for the player said “Saxon was incorporated before Willian’s employment by Chelsea FC and was dormant following his arrival in the UK”.
He added that “Saxon was subsequently liquidated and dissolved and that following Willian’s arrival in the UK, Saxon was never active nor did it receive any payments”.
The film director Stanley Kubrick famously spent the last decades of his life as a semi-recluse in a grand 18th-century manor in Hertfordshire. It can be revealed that the house was transferred to offshore companies controlled by his daughters.
After Kubrick died in 1999, the ownership of the property passed to three companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, a move that could have saved the family hundreds of thousands of pounds in inheritance tax. The papers do not reveal if this occurred.
Documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm reveal a complex network of offshore companies used by the family to own assets, including the profits from some of Kubrick’s films.
The film-maker bought the 18-bedroom Childwickbury Manor in 1978 and lived in it for the rest of his life. He used it as a base to work on films including The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut and Full Metal Jacket. He is buried in the grounds.
The house is now owned by Anya K Holdings Ltd, Vivian K Holdings Ltd and Katharina K Holdings Ltd. The companies’ names refer to his daughters Anya, who died in 2009, Vivian, and his stepdaughter Katharina.
The companies' shares, in turn, are held by trusts on behalf of Kubrick's children and grandchildren. American-born Kubrick moved to the UK in 1961 while making Lolita, after becoming concerned about crime in his home country and a dislike of Hollywood.
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York
The documents reveal a degree of chaos around the Duchess of York's finances. Letters between Mossack Fonseca and Sarah Ferguson's solicitors show the advisers of Prince Andrew's former wife trying to make sense of her assets. The complex arrangements around Essar Company Inc, which was set up in the British Virgin Islands in May 2000, show some of the issues created by managing money offshore.
The company was managed through a trust services company in Geneva. In September 2001, the duchess’s solicitors, Clintons, wrote to Mossack Fonseca, trying to establish how the company had been structured.
Clintons said Essar held “certain of her interests”, adding: “We have been instructed by her relatively recently and are trying to ascertain who the directors of the company are and who the beneficial owners of the company are.”
Clintons recognised that the secrecy around Essar meant that even the duchess’s own solicitors would have difficulty in establishing the company directors’ names.
“We appreciate that this is not information you will disclose to us without prior authority but could you please let us know urgently what authority you need to enable you to disclose this information to us,” the solicitors requested.
The Geneva and British Virgin Islands divisions of Mossack Fonseca then had to grant each other permission to disclose the names of Essar’s directors to the duchess’s solicitors.
At the time, Essar owned trademarks for Little Red, a series of children’s books written by Ferguson. By the end of September, the BVI branch told Clintons that the company directors were two individuals operating out of Mossack Fonseca’s Panama office.
The duchess has recently announced plans to move to Verbier and applied to become a resident of Switzerland.
A spokesman for the duchess said: “Essar Company Inc was formed by the partners who were to develop the business opportunities with the duchess. Had any of the intellectual property generated income or gains or other profits, it would have been disclosed by the duchess as part of her normal tax filings.” The spokesman said the duchess always disclosed all sources of income in her tax returns.
Since her divorce from Prince Andrew, Ferguson has made up to £2m a year from a variety of roles, including as an ambassador for Weight Watchers. However, she lost more than £3.2m in the collapse of Hartmoor, her US lifestyle and wellness company.
The actor has owned at least six offshore companies, also based in the BVI. The holdings included companies called Jumbo Jaz Investment, Jackie Chan Ltd and Dragon Stream Ltd. The veteran Hong Kong actor has featured in 150 films. Chan was not available for comment.
The film director was connected to a company called the Glen Valley Corporation, which operated from 1991 to 1994. The Oscar-winning film-maker was given power of attorney over the company, which allowed him to control it. Two Mossack Fonseca employees acted as the company's directors. Almodóvar is best known for films including All About My Mother and Talk to Her.
Almodóvar cancelled a press junket on Wednesday for his newest film Julieta after facing scrutiny over his financial arrangements.
Almodóvar declined to comment but his brother, who also had power of attorney over the company, told Spanish media that he had closed down the company “because it did not fit with the way we worked”.
Agustín Almodóvar apologised for the “damage my brother’s public image is suffering, caused only by my lack of experience in the first few years of our family business”.
He said: “In any case, before the possible insinuations that might come about from the information you have, we wish to state that both Pedro and I are up-to-date with all of our tax obligations.”
Sir Nick Faldo
The golfer was the sole shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company called Blenhim Road Ltd, which was set up in 1995, two years after the six-time majors winner turned professional.
The company was shut down in 2009, at about the time his playing career was starting to wind down. Faldo declined to comment.
The American chess grandmaster was granted power of attorney over a company called Kettering Consultants Inc in October 2007. It gave him the ability to control the Panama-based company, which was managed by Landsbanki Luxembourg SA.
Fischer was considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. In 1972, he won the World Chess Championship against Boris Spassky. The cold war clash was held in Reykjavik. However, during a hiatus in his chess career, Fischer became more and more reclusive. Increasingly paranoid, he made a series of antisemitic statements. In 1992, he played a $5m (£3.5m) rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia. At the time, Yugoslavia was subject to sanctions, and Americans were barred from doing any business in the country. The US government warned Fischer that he could face a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison. At a press conference in the run-up to the rematch, Fischer defiantly announced that he had not paid any taxes since 1976. He was indicted and never returned to the US.
In March 2005, Iceland granted him citizenship. He died there in 2008, three months after being given power of attorney over Kettering Consultants. The company was “owned” by four bearer shareholders, which gave it an extra degree of secrecy. The company was shut down in 2012.
The late Princess Diana's former butler is a shareholder of a company called Black Dragon Group Ltd. The BVI company was set up in 2005.
Along with his wife Maria, the man Diana called “her rock” has held shares in the company since 2008. Before that, they were owned through a Jersey-based trust company.
Black Dragon was managed by Whitmill Trust, but after the fees became “too high”, Mossack Fonseca was suggested as possible registered agent for the company in 2008. It is not clear whether the company was ultimately transferred.
In 2013, it emerged that Burrell was an investor in a tax relief scheme that was shut down by the government over tax fraud concerns. Burrell declined to comment.
The former wife of Sir Paul McCartney was a shareholder of Water 4 Investment Ltd, which was originally set up to create health foods. However, Mills said the investment ended in long legal battle, losing her a seven-figure sum. The company intended to develop technology to extract the fatty acids usually found in fish oil from algae. Mills owned 100 shares in the British Virgin Islands company; the other 898 were owned by another investor. Mills said she had invested a large sum in the company, but the investment had failed.
“I can say hand on heart I am a straight taxpayer and you will never find anything on me if you investigate thoroughly,” she said in an emailed statement. A spokesman said: “Heather invested £1m in a company which intended to utilise algae [rather than fish] to harvest Omega 3 oils, thus preserving the marine ecosystem.”
In 2008, Mills was awarded £24.3m in her divorce from the former Beatle.
The Serbian fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic, whose clothes have been worn by the Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron, is the shareholder of a company called Greenland Property Limited. The designer, who lives in north London, co-owns the BVI company with her husband, Philip Bueno de Mesquita.
According to her financial advisers, who managed the firm from Switzerland, the company's "region of activity" is Slovenia. A representative for the designer said that Greenland was a dormant company with no assets.
“Roksanda does not avoid tax or obscure ownership of her assets. Indeed she is taxed in the UK on her worldwide income and gains subject to any double taxation treaties in place with the UK Revenue,” said the representative.
Sir Mark Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher's son is listed as the beneficiary of a trust that is the ultimate owner of a house in Barbados. A complex sequence of companies shield his ownership of the property, where his family spend time every year. The trust, which is managed by a Guernsey-based offshore specialist called Harbour Trust, owns a BVI company called Calva Holdings Limited. Calva, in turn, owns another BVI company, which owns the Barbados property. The trust is furnished with nominee shareholders.
In a message to Mossack Fonseca’s compliance department, the managers said: “This trust structure has been part of a very longstanding relationship with Harbour and we are extremely careful to maintain client confidentiality which I am sure you will appreciate and similarly maintain.”
Thatcher was unavailable for comment.
The former professional footballer appears to have used a company called Crewzen Finance Limited to own a semi-detached house in Nottingham. Cole bought the property in his home town in 2009 for £84,000. The former Manchester United striker declined to comment.
The close friend of Princess Margaret, who owned a swath of land on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, held his assets through an offshore company, Beau Estates. Lord Glenconner, who died in 2010, frequently hosted the Queen's late sister on glamorous trips to the Caribbean. After he died, Glenconner's family were surprised to discover that he had left his shares in Beau Estates to his manservant, Winston Kent Adonai, and fought the will. Beau Estates was set up in Panama in 1988 before being transferred to the BVI. The original documents show that the company was controlled by "Mr Lord Glenconner".
Panama Papers reporting team: Juliette Garside, Luke Harding, Holly Watt, David Pegg, Helena Bengtsson, Simon Bowers, Owen Gibson and Nick Hopkins