Text Project recap "Loophole for All
Loophole4All.com promoted the sale of the real identities of over 200,000 anonymous Cayman Islands companies at low cost to democratize the privileges of offshore businesses in tax havens.
Paolo Cirio hacked the governmental website of the Cayman Islands Company Register to compile a list of all companies registered in the major Caribbean offshore center. He made the data public for the first time, which he then exposed by digitally creating counterfeited Certificates of Incorporation documents for each company, all issued with his real name and signature.
The counterfeit certificates were published on the website Loophole4All.com, where everyone was invited to hijack firms' identities through buying Certificate of Incorporations, starting at 99 cents, enabling them to avoid taxes.
This massive corporate identity theft benefited from the legitimate Caymans companies' anonymous nature: the secrecy surrounding their real owners allows anyone to impersonate them. In short, this idea turned the main feature of offshore centers into a vulnerability, which was subsequently exploited by forging the legal paper documents of the Certificate of Incorporation.
This performance generated international media attention, engaged an active audience, and drew outrage from authorities on the Cayman Islands, global banks, the companies' real owners, international accounting firms, and law firms. The artist ultimately counted ten international legal threats and two cease and desist letters from Chinese firms against his artwork.
Using aggressive business strategies to compete against Cayman's incorporation services, the project set up a scheme to publish the stolen information through a company incorporation in City of London (Paolo Cirio Ltd.) and a data center in California, while the identities of the Cayman companies were sold through Luxembourg via PayPal.com to route the profit of the sale to Cirio's operational head quarter in Manhattan. The scheme took advantage of specific jurisdictions for legal liability, financial transactions, and publishing rights. The artist used physical mailboxes in the Caymans, London, and NYC and set up most of this scheme through his passport, ultimately shielding his personal legal liability through his Italian citizenship.
After three weeks of selling the conceptual artworks in the form of limited editions of the firms' identities, PayPal banned the account's project, claiming the sales activity was in violation of PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy. This marked the end of the sale and the loss of the funds that the artist was able to collect to expand the project to other offshore centers.
Cayman Islands local press reported on the project in two newspapers and national TV, interviewing the Cayman Islands Companies Registry's senior official registrar, who publicly minimized the action and data leak, and accused the artist of “scamming people.” Meanwhile, in Bermuda a headline in the national newspaper warned that the artist could attack the country with the same strategy. The project has also been covered in the major newspapers in Spain, Greece, Italy and beyond, in relation to causes of severe economic crisis that affected Europe.
Cirio considers Loophole for All to be a performance that has both a voluntary and an involuntary audience. Some owners of Cayman companies who had requested to be removed from the website became his involuntary audience, who he then engaged through conversations via email and telephone. Many didn't contact him, instead they subscribed to the project's newsletter with anonymous email addresses or from domains of global financial firms like: ey.com, hsbc.com, citi.com, kcs.com, etc.
Another audience voluntarily took part in this participatory civil disobedience through buying services provided on the website. More than nine hundred orders were made on Loophole4All.com. The artist engaged conversations with many individuals who wanted to hijack companies themselves to avoid onshore taxes, set up small offshore businesses, or simply support the project's cause. Another form of audience participation was the project's viral nature, which generated a high level of traffic and attention through threatening the Cayman's financial secrecy and taxation exemption.
An interactive element of the project included the investigation of the database, which received over 25,000 queries in the year since the project's publication. Keyword searches revealed that many of these were made by the owners of companies, journalists, activists, and just curious people. Ultimately, several media outlets have reported names of companies that were found on the database that Cirio compiled.
Furthermore, Paolo Cirio interviewed major tax haven experts and produced a video documentary that investigates offshore centers to expose their social costs and to envision solutions to global economic inequality. On the documentary section of the website Loophole4All.com, the artist also assembled a list of other uses for offshore centers beyond hiding assets and avoiding taxes, such as misusing intellectual property or insuring high environmental and health risks. The list is the result of three years of the artist's independent research into the subject.
Through this artwork Cirio provocatively questions the transparency, secrecy, and anonymity of the global financial industry, pointing at the mechanics of institutionalized illegality and the inequality of globalization, as well as some of the origins of austerity measures like budget cuts on public services and jobs in western countries.
In particular, the website received significant amounts of traffic from India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China. Not coincidentally, these countries are frequently involved in offshore centers like the Cayman Islands. Such offshore centers facilitate political corruption, misreport manufacturing costs and retail prices, and obfuscate foreign investments as tricks to maximize profit from the development of these new economic powers. Yet, Cayman Islands is a UK- dependent territory of the English Crown and it can be considered the major offshore center for American and British companies during the last twenty years of the global expansion of neoliberalism.
In the offline art installation, the project's paper trail is displayed with prints of the documents of the scheme set up for the operation and thousands of the counterfeited Certificates of Incorporation, which can be taken away by the audience. Excerpts from the video documentary are displayed on one channel, while the second channel features excerpts from an interview with the artist and an introduction to the project. Ultimately, a list of a few thousand companies selected from the database are printed on a paper wall, giving a glimpse into the vastness of today's global economy.
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