Emma Watson Has a Secret Offshore Company and the Internet Is So Mad About It
Actress Emma Watson's financial affairs are inciting an avalanche of public opinion following the revelation that she's one of several celebrities and well over 100 politicians who've established clandestine companies offshore.
The information came by way of a searchable database published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on May 9. Pulling data drawn from 11.5 million leaked files from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, "one of the world’s top creators of hard-to-trace companies, trusts and foundations," the project is part of the ICIJ's exhaustively-researched Panama Papers investigation. The report aims to — in the words of the statement on their site — "strip away the secrecy of nearly 214,000 offshore entities created in 21 jurisdictions, from Nevada to Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands." Over the course of a year, more than 370 reporters in dozens of countries examined the data to uncover the actual people behind the companies.
Offshore companies, while very common, are ethically dicey by design: They're often created to dodge domestic tax laws, and sometimes used to funnel ill-gotten gains or shuffle money around to keep it thoroughly unaccounted for. This same report also found that Russian President Vladimir Putin moved around $2 billion dollars through a labyrinthine network shadow companies and banks.
While news that multiple world leaders and other powerful politicians have used — and in certain cases, definitely abused — offshore companies should be alarming, Putin isn't currently trending on Twitter. Neither are Simon Cowell, Jackie Chan, Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar or Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, all celebrities who were also found in the report to hold offshore companies. Only Emma Watson's name is.
A rep for the Harry Potter actress told the Spectator (quotes via Time) that her Virgin Islands-based company was "created for the sole purpose of protecting her anonymity and safety. U.K. companies are required to publicly publish details of their shareholders and therefore do not give her the necessary anonymity required to protect her personal safety, which has been jeopardised in the past owing to such information being publicly available." In one of several events the statement may be referring to, Emma was stalked on-set in 2012 by a man she'd also seen hanging around outside the house she was staying in.
The statement also insists that Watson "receives absolutely no tax or monetary advantages from this offshore company whatsoever – only privacy." Only an economics-proficient investigator (which this writer is not) could quantify the veracity of the assertion that it exists to guard her personal information and address; it's also not immediately clear whether Cowell, Chan and other celebrities can say the same. They're certainly not facing the same level of media coverage and public scrutiny. Why?
Is the uproar because Watson, as a star of one of the biggest YA book adaptations in film history, is the biggest celebrity name in the report? More likely, it's that she's a vocal feminist and advocate for international women's rights, and this supposed scandal is a great chance for some to announce that she's lost credibility. And what's the connection between the two, exactly? If there is an argument to be made that offshore entities potentially feed a corrupt system that perpetuates economic oppression, the same could be said for one's decision to purchase an H&M dress that may have been crafted by a child in a sweatshop. This slope is a particularly slippery one.
There's no easy answers — yet the Twitter users keeping Emma's name in the trending bar are pretty sure there are SO many easy answers; by no wild coincidence many of them seem to take issue with her previous activism, or how they think she goes about being feminist the wrong way. Others have decided Emma is guilty of "tax evasion," though any evidence that it's so has yet to surface. Even some of the more measured responses seem to suggest that in order to be taken seriously as an advocate for feminism and social justice, you must yourself be flaw-free — any misstep, and you and the ideas you stand for are evidently null and void.
See a brief roundup of tweets on Emma's financial imbroglio below.
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