Copying and distributing are prohibited without permission of the publisher

No. 4: The fifth estate

07 December 2017

Email a friend
  • Please enter a maximum of 5 recipients. Use ; to separate more than one email address.


The phrase ‘Paradise Papers’ evokes images of tropical offshore islands with palm trees and a P.O. address for multinationals and high-net-worth individuals. The list of celebrities involved in one way or another is almost endless. Shakira, Madonna, Keira Knightly, the Queen, Prince Charles, the estate of the late Michael Hutchens, Justin Timberlake, and Amitabh Bachchan. We picture Lewis Hamilton in a private jet.

 The fifth estate
The fifth estate is a new entry this year

Idyllic lands without taxes, without transparency and political opposition, all elsewhere.

Then a rude awakening for the scandalised public. It's all legal and it doesn't just take place offshore but emanates from the financial centres of the world: the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Hong Kong, Singapore.

Australian tax commentator Michael West chides the mainstream press. "The media ignores the real tax culprits," he writes in his blog. "The architects of global tax avoidance must be indulging in a quiet chuckle, a nervous chuckle perhaps, because the media has once again missed the forest for the trees."

As in last year's Global Tax 50 entry for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists' (ICIJ's) work on the Panama Papers, International Tax Review applauds the journalists who toil through the millions of documents to shine the light on intricate tax avoidance schemes hidden in offshore structures.

But the entry this year is for all the journalists who are trying to make sense of the vast amount of information unearthed by the ICIJ and who distil the debate down to its essence: calling out governments and politicians as enablers who obstruct tax transparency and institutional reform.

One of them was fearless investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia from Malta.

Galizia linked Malta's president to scandals revealed in the Panama Papers, allegations which many believe got her killed. "My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists," her son Matthew Caruana said.

"But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead."

While the leaking of vast amounts of documents provides the opportunity to see what individuals and companies get up to behind closed doors, it is journalists who must use this opportunity to tell the stories to the public. German politician and former vice-chair of the European Parliament's PANA Committee, Fabio De Masi, tells International Tax Review that he observed some 'leak fatigue' in the aftermath of the Panama Papers.

"Without tax [there is] no democratic choice over our future. The public outrage over scandals such as LuxLeaks or Panama Papers requires engaged journalists who hold governments to account after public attention has moved on. But I am confident that in the information age, tax dodgers will be unable to hide," De Masi said.

This entry in the Global Tax 50 is for the fifth estate, Daphne Galizia and all journalists around the world who are in the line of fire for reminding us of our civic duty to demand checks and balances for political power and money.

The Global Tax 50 2017
View the full list and introduction
The top 10 • Ranked in order of influence
1. US Tax Reform Big 6 2. Dawn of the robots
3. The breakdown of global consensus 4. The fifth estate
5. Margrethe Vestager 6. Arun Jaitley
7. Sri Mulyani Indrawati 8. Pascal Saint-Amans and Achim Pross
9. Richard Murphy 10. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
The remaining 40 • In alphabetic order
Tomas Balco Piet Battiau
Monica Bhatia Blockchain
Rasmus Corlin Christensen Seamus Coffey
Jeremy Corbyn Rufino de la Rosa
Fabio De Masi The Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union
Maria Teresa Fabregas Fernandez The fat tax
Maya Forstater Babatunde Fowler
The GE/PwC outsourcing deal The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) Meg Hillier
Chris Jordan Wang Jun
James Karanja Bruno Le Maire
John Pombe Joseph Magufuli Cecilia Malmström
The Maltese presidency of the EU Council Paige Marvel
Theresa May Angela Merkel
Narendra Modi Pierre Moscovici
The European Parliament Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion (PANA) The Paris Agreement
Grace Perez-Navarro Alexandra Readhead
Heather Self TaxCOOP
Tax Justice Network Donald Trump
United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters WU Global Tax Policy Center






International Correspondents