(Tax–News) -- Appleby, the offshore law firm, has spoken out against recent media coverage, which implies but does not allege that there is wrongdoing in the papers recently exposed that include information on its clients' tax affairs – the so-called Paradise Papers.
In its latest statement, the firm said: "Recent media coverage, including the Panorama program aired on November 5, continues to focus on the offshore sector. The journalists do not allege, nor could they, that Appleby has done anything unlawful. There is no wrongdoing. It is a patchwork quilt of unrelated allegations with a clear political agenda and movement against offshore."
"We wish to reiterate that our firm was not the subject of a leak but of a serious criminal act. This was an illegal computer hack. Our systems were accessed by an intruder who deployed the tactics of a professional hacker and covered his/her tracks to the extent that a forensic investigation by a leading international Cyber and Threats team concluded that there was no definitive evidence that any data had left our systems. This was not the work of anybody who works at Appleby. Panorama stated they have nearly seven million of our documents. They also claimed to have sourced information from 'publicly available documents.' The BBC website states that 'the Paradise Papers contains 13.4 million documents.' It is plain that the source of documents is not confined to Appleby."
"We have had lengthy correspondence with the International Consortium of Independent Journalists (ICIJ). Their claim that we 'did not reply to their detailed questions' is false. We responded to their questions and we requested that they show us the documents they have in their possession which belong to us. Extracts of our response to the ICIJ, which they acknowledged on October 26, are set out [on our website]. We take client confidentiality extremely seriously and we are disappointed that the media has chosen to use information which has emanated from material obtained illegally. This has very little to do with accurate and fair reporting, and everything to do with the pursuit of a political agenda. These journalists will not permit fairness and accuracy to get in the way of their political objectives."
"We also wish to clarify that Appleby is a global organization comprising ten offices which have equal prominence within the global business. We do not have a headquarters. It is not correct to state that Appleby has its headquarters in Bermuda."
"Appleby has thoroughly and vigorously investigated the allegations and we are satisfied that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing. We are a law firm which advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business. We operate in jurisdictions which are regulated to the highest international standards. We do not tolerate illegal behaviour and we reiterate our commitment to responsible business conduct. We are committed to the highest standards of client service and confidentiality. It is what we stand for, this commitment remains unequivocal."
Commenting on recent media coverage, Miles Dean, Managing Partner of Milestone International Tax, a London-based international tax practice, said: "It would be very surprising if the affairs of those individuals concerned were illegal or nefarious. It is the theft of the papers that is illegal. Some of the documents relate to matters 75 years ago when the world was a very different place."
"Recent developments have made a significant impact on the use of tax havens, namely the common reporting standard (CRS) and FATCA. Both FATCA and CRS are automatic exchange of information protocols that mean privacy is no longer what it used to be. Just because an individual makes an investment that is based offshore does not mean that they have done anything wrong – if they fail to disclose it (and the return they make) on their tax return then that's tax evasion. But to make the quantum leap and suggest that everyone from the Queen to Bono is dodging tax because some of their investments are made via Bermuda, Cayman, or Malta is stupidity on a grand scale."
"The comments this morning by [UK] Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell are wide of the mark – imposing a withholding tax on dividends will not stop tax abuse - it would simply make the UK less competitive as a jurisdiction for large multinationals, at a time when we need to be more competitive than ever. McDonnell's comments illustrate just how magnificently out of touch he is with reality. A worrying thought given he's likely to be our next Chancellor."