Demystification Committee

Offshore A-Z

Offshore A-Z is a digital repository of companies operating across major tax havens. Offshore A-Z exploits the inscrutability of such companies in order to speculate on their possible nature and intent. Each company listed on the repository is real, but the information surrounding these consist of both company records, obtained by the Demystification Committee, and speculative images and mission statements, generated by algorithms.

Prior to the ICIJ Offshore Leaks, the snippets of information available on offshore companies were largely confined to the outdated online registrars kept by tax havens, as an empty gesture towards transparency. The Demystification Committee extracted (incomplete) records on hundreds of thousands of companies appearing in a number of such registrars and compiled them into a single database.

Algorithms were then trained to fill in the gaps in information. Using keywords from the company’s records as a trigger, the algorithms associate images with each nondescript company and complete missing fields by guessing possible incorporation dates or by generating corporate mission statement via a simple neural network. The coherency and accuracy of the neural network is directly undermined by the opaque source material, or incomplete input records. Finally, companies previously named in the Offshore Leaks are hyperlinked to the relevant entry on the ICIJ database, allowing user to investigate further.

The resulting information is autonomously built into a Web 2.0 page, employing a visual grammar similar to that used by existing registrars of companies. This cycle of actions is repeated for each unreleased company found in the database and publicly announced by a Twitter bot.

Among the companies listed on the Offshore A-Z, a few appearing to be embedded in complex offshore ventures were further investigated, resulting in three stories focusing on the funding behind Leave.EU, the corporate tax-avoidance of Barclays and the colonial origins of HSBC. These stories were explored both on dedicated web pages and as a set of three beach-towels.