Offshore law firm Appleby is fighting back after after millions of its documents were disclosed in the Paradise Papers revelations. The hacked data, the subject of a television programme, revealed a lengthy list of high-profile figures investing in offshore tax havens including the Queen and former Conservative party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft. The law firm issued a statement claiming that the data was not released by employees of the law firm. It said: 'Recent media coverage, including the Panorama programme aired on 5th November, continues to focus on the offshore sector. The journalists do not allege, nor could they, that Appleby has done anything unlawful. There is no wrongdoing. It is a patchwork quilt of unrelated allegations with a clear political agenda and movement against offshore.'
Illegal computer hack
The statement went on to say that the firm 'was not the subject of a leak but of a serious criminal act. This was an illegal computer hack. Our systems were accessed by an intruder who deployed the tactics of a professional hacker and covered his/her tracks to the extent that a forensic investigation by a leading international Cyber & Threats team concluded that there was no definitive evidence that any data had left our systems. This was not the work of anybody who works at Appleby. Panorama stated they have nearly seven million of our documents. They also claimed to have sourced information from “publicly available documents”. The BBC website states that “the Paradise Papers contains 13.4 million documents”. It is plain that the source of documents is not confined to Appleby.'
The firm said it had 'thoroughly and vigorously investigated the allegations and we are satisfied that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing. We are a law firm which advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business. We operate in jurisdictions which are regulated to the highest international standards. We do not tolerate illegal behaviour and we reiterate our commitment to responsible business conduct.'
Reaction to the leaks was mixed with law firms defending the offshore firm. Andrew Smith, partner at leading criminal and regulatory law firm Corker Binning, said: 'If Appleby’s advice has gone no further than tax avoidance, we shouldn’t expect to see any prosecutions in the UK arising from this data leak. The new criminal offences being rolled out by HMRC – such as failure to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion – are not retroactive, but even if they were, nothing has been disclosed so far which suggests they would criminalise what has happened here.' However, he added: 'That is not to say these new offences won’t make a difference. They reflect the rising tide of moral opprobrium directed at the offshore tax industry. Advisors will now tread extremely carefully so as to avoid falling onto the wrong side of the notoriously blurred line between legitimate tax avoidance and illegitimate tax evasion.'