Spain’s Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza is among the high-profile names to emerge out of an exhaustive investigation into users of offshore tax havens across the world. The study, compiled following 15 months of research by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), alleges that the baroness has made use of a firm based in the Cook Islands to buy works of art at auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Pieces of information point to the fact that the baroness used the consortium Nautilus Limited, situated in the Cook Islands, to buy Vincent Van Gogh’s 1884 oil painting, Watermill at Gennep, at auction at Sotheby’s. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, which looks after a large proportion of the baroness’s collection, refused to comment on the issue when contacted by EL PAÍS, claiming it was a “private matter relating to the collection” of the baroness, who, what’s more, was “out of Madrid today.”
The ICIJ website reports that the baroness’s lawyer, Jaime Rotondo Russo, has admitted that this kind of practice facilitates the movement of a “transnational” art collection, helping give “maximum flexibility” when it comes to transferring works from country to country. When contacted by EL PAÍS, Rotondo Russo’s office said the lawyer was currently traveling and so was unavailable to give his opinion.
In an advance of the investigation posted on its website on Thursday, the ICIJ reported that it had accessed around 2.5 million digital files, predominantly in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and other offshore hideaways. The study looked into the movements of 120,000 firms and offshore trusts and of around 130,000 people, among them billionaires in Eastern Europe and Indonesia, executives of Russian companies, American doctors, and arms dealers.
According to the ICIJ, the documents analyzed illustrate “how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.” To analyze all the information the ICIJ employed the help of 86 reporters in 46 countries, collaborating with news organizations such as The Guardian and the BBC in the UK, Le Monde in France and The Washington Post in the United States.