Hi, I’m Will Fitzgibbon, a reporter with ICIJ. 

I’m taking over the newsletter this week to tell you about a new investigation into a tax scandal you’ve probably never heard of; one that rips off some of the poorest countries in the world. 

We’ve called the investigation Mauritius Leaks.

If you want to know how big corporations exploit loopholes in a global system, then you will want to read more.

Can’t find Mauritius on a map? You’re not alone.

Even if you can’t pinpoint it (it’s in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar), Mauritius – a tax haven – is a thorn in the side of many developing countries. We found that multinational corporations use Mauritius’ low tax rates and things called “double taxation treaties,” to pay less in taxes to countries including India, Namibia and even the United States.

As one tax expert told me: “It may be a small tax haven, but it’s defying the U.S., so playing big.”

How tiny Mauritius siphons tax revenue from poor nations to benefit elites

Inside the firm at the heart of Mauritius Leaks

Mauritius Leaks is the latest chapter in ICIJ’s award-winning offshore reporting. It started with a story I wrote in 2017 as part of the Paradise Papers investigation and continued when an anonymous source sent us a USB key in the mail that contained 200,000 confidential files (thank you, whistleblower!).

This is one of the most difficult investigations I have worked on. (And, yes, I was here for Panama Papers.)

We spoke to almost 60 tax experts to help us understand the documents. I spent 72 hours just trying to comprehend Section 70 of the Thai Revenue Code (not recommended for a breezy weekend). But I’m glad I did. It helped me understand how one company set up a shell operation in Mauritius to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes to Thailand – a country where two million children live in households that earn below the poverty line.

I also spoke to dozens of tax officials from around the world. Some spoke publicly for the very first time; others were so angry about tax dodging that they swore in frustration! (I like to think it’s our ongoing interest and independent reporting on tax dodging that encouraged them to speak with us.)

These officials confirmed what the 54 reporters who worked on Mauritius Leaks learned from our detailed analysis of emails, bank statements and contracts: multinational corporations have used shell companies that exist only on paper to avoid paying taxes. That’s a big deal for countries without enough money to curb child mortality or to build enough hospitals.

We looked at the offshore dealings of a shell company owned by Aircastle (which leases planes to American Airlines, for example). The Mauritius company made millions in revenue in one year from South Africa. We found this at the bottom of one of their Mauritius tax returns:

We’ve learned so much from working with reporters around the world – a central part of every ICIJ project. For Mauritius Leaks, we are proud to be working with new faces from Mauritius, La Reunion, Uganda, Tanzania, the United States and the United Kingdom.

“You have countries trapped in poverty,” Ugandan editor Tabu Butagira told me when he first started working on the investigation. “Investments are not funded and that’s fewer services for the ordinary person … Why are people who are making a lot of money not paying their share of tax?”

Reply to this email if you have any questions about Mauritius Leaks or if you want to help us continue exposing the offshore world.


Will Fitzgibbon
ICIJ's Africa partnership coordinator and reporter
P.S. If spreadsheets are your thing, you can download data related to 200 companies we found in the leak – and do your own investigation!

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