South Dakota Trusts Targeted in Washington Post Expose Dubbed "Pandora Papers"

Panama Papers style incursion of servers in South Dakota puts kings and oligarchs on the hot seat once again. Big names like Former UK PM Tony Blair, King Abdullah of Jordan, Vladimir Putin, even Elton John and others find South Dakota a new hot spot for hiding money.

Financial secrecy laws in South Dakota have made the trust industry richer by hosting trusts that purportedly conceal and protect assets of people accused of financial crimes and human rights abuses, according to newly treasure trove of documents made public on Sunday. 

The Pandora Papers, leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), explores the secretive offshore system the wealthy and power use to shield their money. The millions of pages of documents were shared with media partners including the Guardian, BBC Panorama, Le Monde, and the Washington Post. 

The documents reveal that $360 billion in customer assets are sitting in trusts in South Dakota. Over the years, state lawmakers in South Dakota have approved legislation drafted by trust industry insiders, protecting their customers' finances and adding additional benefits, according to the ICIJ.  Over the last decade, the total dollar in these accounts has quadrupled from $57.3 billion.

"South Dakota now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy," the Washington Post reported.

In 2019, for example, family members of the former vice president of the Dominican Republic, who once led one of the largest sugar producers in the country, finalized several trusts in South Dakota. The trusts held personal wealth and shares of the company, which has stood accused of human rights and labor abuses, including illegally bulldozing houses of impoverished families to expand plantations.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with a population of less than 200,000, hosts tens of millions of dollars in trusts belonging to people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing, the Post reports.

South Dakota is so appealing to the ultra-rich because they want the best security, the best income, and the lowest costs, the newspaper says.

The state's laws have moved to allow for more financial security to protect asset holders, the Guardian explains. In a normal bank, the government taxes the interest earned by the account. Even if that money is protected from taxes it can still be lost through a divorce or legal proceedings.

However, in South Dakota, all assets are protected from any civil claims, the Guardian reports. Assets are not protected from criminal investigation. Because the state has no income tax, no inheritance tax, and no capital gains tax, finances there are also sheltered from the government, the outlet said.

81 of the offshore accounts detailed in the Pandora Papers are in South Dakota, making it the state in the US with the largest number of trusts from the report, according to the ICIJ. 

"Trusts set up in South Dakota and many other U.S. states remain cloaked in secrecy, despite enactment this year of the federal Corporate Transparency Act, which makes it harder for owners of certain types of companies to hide their identities," the ICIJ said. 

The news outlets involved are expected to publish more details from the Pandora Papers in the coming days. 


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