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Tax haven data leak reduces secrecy

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

PARIS — A data leak involving tens of thousands of offshore bank accounts names dozens of prominent figures around the world — raising the prospect that accounts based on promises of secrecy and tax shelter could someday offer neither.

Among those named include a top campaign official in France, the ex-wife of pardoned oil trader Marc Rich, Azerbaijan's ruling family and the late Baron Elie de Rothschild.

The widespread use of offshore accounts among the wealthy is widely known. But this leak, orchestrated by a Washington-based group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, appeared to be the broadest in what has been a steady stream of information emerging about hidden money in recent years amid a wave of anger targeting the super-rich.

The leak allegedly involved records from 10 tax havens, where the world's wealthy have long stashed funds. It uncovered a shadow network of empty holding companies and names essentially rented out to fill out boards of non-existent corporations, including a British couple listed as active in more than 2,000 entities, according to The Guardian newspaper, which participated in the global undertaking.

The project started with the receipt of a hard drive by an Australian journalist, Gerard Ryle, who took the data with him when he joined the consortium, according to the project's website. The group, a project of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, has said the hard drive arrived in the mail.

“We know the data is valid. We know who originally produced the data and we've done massive crosschecks to make sure what we're getting is accurate and isn't corrupted,” said Michael Hudson, a senior editor on the project.

Rudolf Elmer, who once ran the Caribbean operations of the Swiss bank Julius Baer and turned whistle-blower after he was dismissed in 2002, told The Associated Press that he considers the data to be authentic.

“This comprehensive information is like a torch that will probably set off a wildfire and bring to light a lot more about secretive tax havens,” he said.

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