The accounting industry has a Snowden, and his name is Antoine Deltour. In November 2014, the Luxembourg-based former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee leaked thousands of documents to mass media outlets around the world, revealing hundreds of tax-avoidance schemes exploited by more than 350 multinational corporations—and implicating the country’s long-standing status as a tax haven.

As big as the “LuxLeaks” scandal was, it was limited to Luxembourg. In fact there are a dozen other tax havens—sorry, tax-neutral jurisdictions—that form an interconnected global web of secretive financial activity. At their core, tax havens serve those who wish to avoid the legal and regulatory scrutiny (and tax burden) of their home countries. They enable companies to channel massive sums of money around the world, using byzantine structures of shell companies and sheltered accounts. They boast the latest in financial technology, like internet banking and cloud computing services tailored for the online gambling industry. It’s impossible to know how much wealth is stashed in secrecy jurisdictions (as their critics call them), but estimates range from $7.6 trillion to $32 trillion. (The GDP of the US is only about $17 trillion.)

Photographers Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti have spent the past three years gaining access to this secretive world, and for much of that time they labored over how to visually represent something that is often invisible by design. The images they collected in their book, The Heavens, are remarkable for what they reveal but are even more evocative because of what we know lies beneath the surface. “The consequences of these operations,” Woods says, “are enormous and affect us all, from higher taxes to a less competitive market, from growing inequality to financial crises.” The calm and ordered beauty of these photos belie the global reach, unimaginable wealth, and complex machinations that link them together.


Beyond the Panama Papers: See Inside the World’s Tax Havens