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Offshore law firm at centre of Paradise Papers

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London (AFP)

Bermuda-based law firm Appleby, which specialises in offshore finance, is at the centre of the Paradise Papers leak that has sent shockwaves around the world.

Appleby provides investment advice to businesses and wealthy people seeking to lower their tax burden and protect their cash.

The so-called Paradise Papers, half of which are from Appleby and its affiliates, have been shared with international media this week via the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The leak of 13.4 million financial documents, which covers the period from 1950 to 2016, sheds light on the secretive world of the offshore finance industry, which seeks to use lawful means to pay less or no tax.

The view on the tax affairs of the rich and powerful reveals offshore deals that, while not illegal, are embarrassing for those concerned.

Appleby, created in 1898 in Bermuda, now has offices in tax havens including the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, Mauritius and the Seychelles, as well as the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey.

The firm employs 470 staff at its 10 bases dotted around the world, offering "practical solutions" in single locations or across multiple jurisdictions, according to its website.

The group's specialities include corporate, dispute resolution, property, regulatory as well as private clients and trusts.

The leaked papers have uncovered offshore tax loopholes used by household names like Apple and Nike -- and also by well-known public figures like US singer Bono, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and Queen Elizabeth II.

According to the trove, Appleby helped iPhone maker Apple shift tens of billions of dollars from Ireland to the Channel Islands when it appeared to face a tougher stance on taxation by Dublin in 2015.

Apple has however insisted that its changes did not reduce tax payments in any country, adding that it complies with all laws.

Documents also show details of offshore deals involving Queen Elizabeth II, the US commerce secretary, a fundraiser for Canada's prime minister and others.

For its part, Appleby has denounced the Paradise Papers release as a "serious criminal act" and stressed that its "overriding objective" is to comply with regulations around the world.

But amid ongoing state austerity and stretched public finances, the scandal has also sparked renewed debate over tax avoidance, which is legal, and tax evasion which is not.

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