An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has unveiled the secret offshore dealings of more than 130,000 people from 170 countries, including many prominent figures from Southeast Asia.
The investigation revealed that nine of Indonesia’s 11 wealthiest families have utilised tax havens, owning more than 190 offshore trusts and companies between them. Six of these families have also been closely linked to Indonesia’s late dictator, Suharto. Almost 2,500 Indonesians were uncovered in the records of Portcullis TrustNet, an offshore services provider. According to the research, Indonesia’s Riady family owned at least 11 offshore trusts from 1989 to 2009, based chiefly in the Cook Islands.
Known for their roles in deforesting large areas of tropical rainforest, Eka Tjipta Widjaja, the Salim family, Sukanto Tanoto and Prajogo Pangestu were also revealed to have over 140 offshore companies, mainly in the British Virgin Islands.
Thailand did not get off lightly either, with Potjaman Na Pombejra – Thaksin Shinawatra’s ex-wife – joined on the list by two of Thailand’s wealthiest families, the Chirathivats and the Vongkusolkits, as well as some of the country’s high level politicians and musician Yuenyong Opakul.
Aye Zaw Win, son-in-law of Myanmar’s former dictator Ne Win, and Mirzan Bin Mahathir, the son of Malaysia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, are among other prominent Southeast Asians reported to have offshore interests in locations such as Labuan and the British Virgin Islands.
While the ICIJ states that many users of offshore accounts are engaged in legitimate transactions, they stress that murky offshore dealings force citizens to pay higher taxes, encourage fraud and allow political corruption to thrive.
“Billion dollar babies” – For better or worse, the number of billionaires is booming in Southeast Asia