the dark side of Baker McKenzie, a “global” law firm


By Maxime Vaudano, Jérémie Baruch, Anne Michel and Sydney Freedberg (ICIJ)

Published on October 04, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. – Updated on October 05, 2021 at 07:03 a.m.

It’s the Rolls-Royce of law firms. Baker McKenzie. The first of the “global firms”, capable of intervening in all areas of law on the five continents. A brand with an impeccable reputation, represented by nearly 5,000 lawyers in forty-six countries, in which the most prestigious clients can place their trust with their eyes closed. A powerful network of “elders”, who, like the Goldman Sachs bank, now occupy the most eminent public functions – such as Christine Lagarde, head of the cabinet between 1999 and 2005, and now president of the European Central Bank ( ECB).

But “BMK” also has a dark side, revealed by the “Pandora Papers” survey, conducted by The world with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ): that of a pillar of the world of offshore finance, this parallel economy which benefits individuals and companies in search of opacity or tax exemption.

Thousands of confidential documents obtained by the ICIJ detail how the firm helps its clients reap the benefits of the offshore industry, while helping to influence regulations in a way favorable to their interests.

What are the “Pandora Papers”?

“Pandora Papers” is a collaborative investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in partnership with 150 international media, including The world. It is based on the leak of nearly 12 million confidential documents, transmitted by an anonymous source to the ICIJ, from the archives of fourteen firms specializing in the creation of offshore companies in tax havens (British Virgin Islands, Dubai, Singapore, Panama, the Seychelles…).

Five years after the “Panama Papers”, the investigation reveals the extent of the excesses of the offshore industry and its limited companies. She shows how this system benefits hundreds of politicians, and how new tax havens take over as old ones convert to transparency.

To read : Article reserved for our subscribers “Pandora Papers”: global dive into the secrets of offshore finance

Although Baker McKenzie’s internal archives are not included in the ‘Pandora Papers’ leak, the group is mentioned indirectly in more than 7,500 documents from offshore firms based in Panama, Cyprus or the British Virgin Islands (BVI). We discover that “BMK” has delegated to them the creation and administration of hundreds of front companies on behalf of its clients, thus avoiding direct compromise. Companies that often turn out to be empty shells, simple interposition structures intended to take advantage of the advantages of the tax havens in which they are registered.

Asked by the ICIJ, the firm refused to expand on the raison d’être of these offshore companies, by referring the responsibility to intermediaries or end customers.

But several documents from the “Pandora Papers” raise questions. Like this exchange of e-mails, in 2008, between the office of “BMK” in Florida and an offshore service provider, around a company open to the BVI on behalf of a wealthy Canadian, who clearly wishes “Protect yourself from US property taxes”. Or, four years later, when an employee of the firm took part in the transfer to the BVI of the companies of an American billionaire hitherto established in Panama, at the very time when international pressure on this country intensified.

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