The OpenLux project uncovered years of dubious financial activity involving celebrities, organized crime groups, & people with political connections that had been hidden for years thanks to Luxembourg’s corporate secrecy laws. After Le Monde journalists scraped the data from Luxembourg’s corporate register & worked with OCCRP’s data team to upload it into OCCRP Aleph, our investigative data platform, it became fully searchable for the first time. A global team of journalists investigated the names & companies in the database. Collaborating with 16 media outlets & scores of reporters, we found several instances of elites hiding their business activities from the authorities & public scrutiny.
In Luxembourg, the prosecutor has opened at least 12 cases as a result of the OpenLux investigations. The government has committed to putting more people in the prosecutor’s office to investigate financial crime.
The Luxembourg government put forward a draft bill aimed at allowing authorities to sanction those who use the country’s financial system for money laundering and tax evasion. The law will grant the LBR the power to impose sanctions and relieve the country’s justice system in cases where the registry is abused. “I can confirm that the Minister of Justice will submit to the government a draft bill allowing the Luxembourg Business Register (LBR) to impose administrative sanctions,” Luxembourg Ministry of Justice Press Attaché Monique Feidt told OCCRP.
In Serbia, the Openlux investigation created a huge political scandal and forced the president to give an explanation to the press.
In Spain, the Openlux investigation connected a former IMF director, Rodrigo Rato, to the company owned by an arms trafficker, Abdul Rahman el Assir.
Several EU parliamentarians are using the OpenLux investigation to strengthen the legislation for the next EU directive in terms of requirements for future registers.
A month after the publication of the investigation, the European Parliament held a plenary debate titled “Reforming the EU policy framework to stop tax avoidance in the EU after the OpenLux revelations.”
A German MEP used OpenLux to press for open company registers after investigation with Indonesian partners showed a palm oil magnate owns a Frank Gehry structure in Dusseldorf — a fact unknown to the German authorities.
Reacting to the publication of OpenLux, EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said he is considering an amendment to the anti-tax avoidance directive.
European Economic Commission officials requested that a Le Monde reporter explain the revelations from OpenLux.
his project was based on the exploitation of public data and was unusual in its large size and geographical scope. We built a gigantic database from two public registers: the trade and company register ( RCS), which brings together all the administrative acts of Luxembourg companies, and the register of beneficial owners (RBE), which lists the ultimate owners of these companies. This data and documents were mapped to match OCCRP’s Follow the Money data structure and then ingested into Aleph. OCCRP Aleph is a data platform that brings together a vast archive of current and historic databases, documents, leaks and investigations. Adding the Luxembourg data to Aleph automatically extracted the names of companies and people that we could then match up with other records we hold to find leads for stories.
Luxembourg has initiated in recent years a process of financial transparency, but this has its limits: the information contained in its registers is not freely offered to the general public in an open data process (open data), as in other countries. To access it, you must connect to the Luxembourg Business Register (LBR) site, and type the name of a company that you know beforehand. Impossible, on the other hand, to submit the name of a person to know the companies which it owns, nor to make a search on the contents of the documents, as on a search engine. By scraping and importing this public data into Aleph, we enabled journalists to overcome these imposed technical obstacles and easily conduct reverse-company look-ups and searches and match the results against other datasets to find what would have otherwise proven to be difficult, if not possible, to find connections.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The size of the data was unwieldy, and without context it didn’t mean much. To get the context and find the leads we needed to a) use Aleph to find overlapping data and connections and b) find the right journalists who knew enough about the people and companies mentioned to understand the importance of what they were looking at, and then spend the time to tenaciously dig to turn that into a story. Aleph enabled journalists to overcome the limitations of the site itself – reverse-company look-ups by people and in bulk, in addition to the cross referencing matches across datasets.
What can others learn from this project?
With the right tools and expertise, public data can be used to find important stories and push for change.
The data can continually be mined for stories by partners and others, like this one published months after the initial OpenLux project came out. https://www.occrp.org/en/openlux/trail-of-venezuelas-stolen-billions-leads-to-caribbean-luxury-properties
And Forbes used the OpenLux data and followed up with a piece in November 2021 https://www.forbes.com/sites/giacomotognini/2021/11/08/investigation-how-billionaires-bernard-arnault-amancio-ortega-park-vast-wealth-in-tiny-tax-light-luxembourg/?sh=6261a13327b8