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  1. ITV Report

The Paradise Papers: Everything you need to know

Many of the leaked papers belong to Bermuda-based law firm Appleby. Credit: AP

A huge leak of documents has laid bare the financial affairs of the global elite.

The Queen, former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft and US president Donald Trump's commerce secretary Wilbur Ross are among those named in the tranche of material dubbed the Paradise Papers.

In total, some 13.4 million documents have been released which reportedly tie major companies and political figures to secretive overseas arrangements. It is the biggest data leak since the Panama Papers release last year.

Here is everything you need to know about the disclosures and those implicated by them.

  • What are the Paradise Papers?

The Paradise Papers is a database comprising around 13.4 million documents detailing the tax affairs of some of the wealthiest people and companies on the planet.

The majority of the data comes from leaked papers belonging to Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm specialising in offshore accounts.

Much of the trove of files includes bank statements, emails and loan agreements from Appleby, which helps clients set up in overseas jurisdictions with low or zero tax rates.

Other records came from Asiaciti Trust, a family-run offshore specialist based In Singapore, and from 19 corporate registries maintained by governments in jurisdictions that draw the wealthy seeking privacy.

The Paradise Papers are the biggest data leak since the Panama Papers. Credit: AP

As with last year's Panama Papers, the files were first obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Nearly 100 media organisations have since been involved in sifting through the tranche of documents.

In addition to the initial cache of data released on Sunday night, the ICIJ has promised further information will be made public throughout the week. The ICIJ said this will include "stories on strategies used by multinational corporations to shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions," and an expose on "the world of private jets and yachts" owned in offshore tax havens by the planet's richest people.

  • Is what is being reported legal?

There is nothing to suggest that any of the investments that have been reported are illegal.

The papers claim major global companies have exploited offshore schemes to avoid tax.

Tax avoidance involves companies and people using legal ways and following the rules to reduce their tax bill.

In contrast, tax evasion is an offence and involves illegal ways of paying less tax than required.

A spokesman for the Duchy of Lancaster, which handles the Queen's investments, said: "All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate."

Responding to the leak on Sunday, Appleby, the Bermuda-based law firm at the centre of the story, said there is "no evidence" it has done anything wrong.

  • What is the UK's approach to dealing with tax havens?

The Government announced in 2015 that Britain's overseas territories - which include the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands - had agreed to reveal who owns and profits from a company on central registers or "similarly effective systems".

The Foreign Office says it wants UK law enforcement and tax authorities to have unrestricted access to this information while companies and their beneficial owners must not be alerted should an investigation be under way.

But campaigners argue this falls short of the desire to have increased transparency, including David Cameron's previously stated intentions for such registers to be publicly available.

The Government defended its record on tackling tax avoidance. Credit: PA

Responding to the papers, Liberal Democrat leader and former business secretary Sir Vince Cable accused Mr Cameron of failing to clamp down on off-shore tax havens.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the data "proves" that "there's one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest when it comes to paying tax."

A Treasury spokeswoman said: "Since 2010, the Government has secured an additional £160 billion, more than the annual UK NHS budget, for our vital public services by tackling tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance.

"This includes more than £2.8 billion from those trying to hide money abroad to avoid paying what they owe.

"A fair tax system is a critical and key part of our plan to build a fairer society, and we are clear that everyone must pay what is due, at the right time."