WASHINGTON: A massive database of private offshore banking entities that could be used for tax evasion was posted online for public use on Friday by the muckraking group that first reported the files.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said anyone can now search the records of some 100,000 companies, trusts and funds located in leading tax havens to see who could be making use of them to skirt home-country taxes.
The group said it was doing so in the name of public interest and also hoped that crowd-sourcing the files would lead to more revelations about public figures who hide their money.
"Secrecy creates an environment where fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and other forms of corruption thrive. The Offshore Leaks Database helps remove this secrecy," said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle.
"Opening up the records serves the public interest by bringing accountability to an industry that has long operated in the shadows."
The ICIJ, which first revealed that it had the huge cache of computerized files last year, has already prompted investigations into tax dodging in a number of countries, including Greece, India, the Philippines and South Korea.
"Entry to the secret world is now publicly available for the first time online," said Ryle.
"It may be that the best stories are still out there."
The release comes ahead of the G8 summit next week, where leaders of the world's top economies will discuss a pact on sharing banking data to allow countries to fight tax evasion.
And it comes amid rising pressure on the tax havens themselves to be less secretive.
The ICIJ said it did not put all of the data it has online. It stripped out personal information like email addresses, bank account numbers and phone numbers.
Some of the information on the location of offshore entities has also been held back, it said.
Nor is there any financial information in the records, such as capital of the entities or profit and loss data.
The data is also heavily focused on Asia and Asians, and Singapore-based or linked entities, especially Singapore-based wealth manager Portcullis TrustNet.
Most of the names are not known publicly but a search for some prominent names shows some links to offshore companies.
"Mahathir" brings up Mokhzani Mahathir, the son of Malaysia's former prime minister, and several companies linked to him that are based in Malaysia's offshore banking centre Labuan.
A search for "Chearavanont", the family that controls Thailand's giant CP Group conglomerate, lists several names, all apparently the children of CP chief Dhanin Chearavanont.
They are tied to Mandolin Capital, registered in the British Virgin Islands, through Portcullis, but recorded as defunct in the database.
There is nothing to indicate any wrongdoing, ICIJ acknowledges.
"There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts, and ICIJ does not suggest or imply that the people and companies included in the database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly," the group said in a statement.
It stressed instead that the database can help develop pictures of offshore networks that can be used to hide money.
It allows users "to explore the relationships between clients, offshore entities and the lawyers, accountants, banks and other intermediaries who help keep these arrangements secret."