Oct 3, 2021 - Economy

Major probe accuses South Dakota of rivaling offshore tax havens

Falls Park in downtown Sioux Falls South Dakota.

Falls Park in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Over a dozen U.S. states have become "leaders" in "peddling financial secrecy," according to a global investigation of leaked documents, known as the "Pandora Papers," published this weekend.

Why it matters: "South Dakota, Nevada and other states have adopted financial secrecy laws that rival those of offshore jurisdictions," per the papers, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington, D.C., and shared with major news outlets.

  • The investigation, involving more than 600 journalists examining over 11.9 million financial records, found data showing "leaders of foreign governments, their relatives and companies moving their private fortunes into U.S.-based trusts," per the Washington Post, an investigation media partner.
  • President Biden has pledged that his administration will lead efforts to bring transparency to the U.S. and global financial systems.
  • The files suggest that the U.S. has emerged as "a leading tax haven," with South Dakota in particular allegedly "sheltering billions of dollars in wealth linked to individuals previously accused of serious financial crimes," notes the Guardian, another partner, along with the BBC and Le Monde.

Of note: The records provide "substantial new evidence" that South Dakota "now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy," per WashPost.

  • "Year after year in South Dakota, state lawmakers have approved legislation drafted by trust industry insiders, providing more and more protections and other benefits for trust customers in the U.S. and abroad," according to the ICIJ.
  • "Customer assets in South Dakota trusts have more than quadrupled over the past decade to $360 billion," the ICIJ added.

Zoom in: "Tens of millions of dollars from outside the United States are now sheltered by trust companies in Sioux Falls, some of it tied to people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing," WashPost reports.

  • The outlet notes records show that in 2019, "family members of the former vice president of the Dominican Republic, who once led one of the largest sugar producers in the country, finalized several trusts in South Dakota."
  • "The trusts held personal wealth and shares of the company, which has stood accused of human rights and labor abuses, including illegally bulldozing houses of impoverished families to expand plantations," WashPost adds.
  • Representatives for South Dakota and Nevada legislators and the Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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