Data caveats and limitations
The ICIJ Offshore Database shows relationships and networks among people or companies and offshore entities. Consider this database like a corporate registry where you can check information about a company and the people who played a role in that entity at a certain point in time. Roles include being a director, a shareholder, a beneficial owner, a trustee, among others.
The data are a small part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked offshore files that ICIJ analyzed with a team of 112 reporters in 58 countries for more than 15 months. Stories based on the records have appeared in leading media outlets around the world since April 3, 2013.
The database includes entities incorporated in 10 offshore jurisdictions: British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Singapore, Hong Kong, Samoa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Labuan and Malaysia. The information comes from two offshore service firms: Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited (CTL).
Other than deleting obvious duplicate records, ICIJ has not altered the data. The relationships and networks you will find in the Offshore Leaks Database are presented as they appear in the original databases ICIJ obtained.
The only enhancement that ICIJ has made is a country identification filter used for searching purposes only. This identification is a result of a largely automated process that detected the country information in addresses, jurisdictions or tax statuses and applied the connection to the associated entity, master client or officer. Limitations include potential data entry and country matching errors.
All the officers and companies that lacked an address in the original databases or whose addresses were so incomplete that we could not reliably link them to a specific country have been grouped in a category called "Not Identified" in the country filter.
Data involving certain privacy concerns have been removed. Some of the information we are withholding includes:
- Email addresses and telephone numbers
- Bank Account information and financial transactions
Here are other important caveats about the data:
- Our extensive reporting for more than a year has demonstrated that the data are accurate. However we have been unable to independently verify each record because of the massive size of the Offshore Leaks Database. We encourage users to verify their search results against other sources of information.
- The data cover a period of about 30 years ending in 2010.
- Typos and misspellings are frequent in the original databases.
- Because this is a relational database that connects people and companies, isolated entities or persons with no apparent connections have been removed. Isolated addresses have also been removed.
- Searches can be made using Chinese characters but they will show results only if the entries in the original databases were written in Mandarin. Most Chinese names in the Offshore Leaks data are written in pinyin.
In this story we tell you how our journalists and programmers worked with the offshore data to build this application and in this one we explain how to search by country efficiently.
ICIJ has used in this application the terminology that appears in the databases it received. Here are some useful definitions:
- Bearer shares
- Company shares that exist only in certificate form and whoever “bears” the certificate is deemed to be their owner. They allow for anonymous transfers of control.
- Beneficial owner
- The ultimate owner of an offshore company.
- A person who is entitled to certain financial benefits under a trust arrangement. Sometimes beneficiaries are not aware of their role in a trust because the settlor or the trustee have not notified them.
- Dormancy Date
- The date when an offshore entity stopped being active.
- Incorporation Date
- The date when an offshore entity was created.
- Listed Address
- Contact postal address as it appears in the original databases obtained by ICIJ.
- Master Client
- Often an intermediary or go-between who helps a client set up an offshore entity.
- A person or company that acts on behalf of the beneficial owner of an entity to provide an extra level of secrecy.
- A person or company who plays a role in an offshore entity.
- Offshore Entity
- A company, trust or fund created in a low-tax, offshore jurisdiction.
- An advisor to a trust settlor who oversees the work of the trustee.
- Offshore Service Provider
- Firm that provides services in an offshore jurisdiction to incorporate, register and manage an offshore entity at the request of a client.
- Sundry Account
- An internal account created by the offshore services firm to record miscellaneous charges of an officer or master client.
- Tax status
- In this database, it is information that relates to the jurisdiction where an entity may have fiscal duties.
- A legal arrangement in which an individual transfers assets owned by him/her to a trustee.
- A person who holds title to the assets in a trust and is responsible for administering the assets on behalf of the beneficiaries of the trust.
- Trust settlor
- A person who creates a trust or transfers assets to an already existing trust.
- Underlying officer
- A person or company who plays a role in an offshore entity but whose name appears behind the name of a nominee.