200,000 Caymans Corporations Hacked For Art Project

Hacker-artist Paolo Cirio scraped data from more than 200,000 Cayman Islands corporations via government servers to protest offshore tax laws. Users can purchase their own offshore "Certificates of Incorporation" for tax purposes through Cirio's website.

An Italian artist claims to have hacked servers belonging to the Cayman Islands' government for a political art project. Paolo Cirio, who recently had a fellowship at the tech-art Eyebeam center in New York, released Loophole4All this morning after allegedly grabbing a list of all companies incorporated in the offshore finance haven. The site, says Cirio, sells “the identities of those companies at a low cost to democratize the privileges of offshore businesses” as a form of tax resistance.

Cirio claims to have redirected the addresses of more than 200,000 Cayman Islands companies to his own Caymans mailbox, resulting in counterfeit certificates of incorporation from the Caymans corporate registry. Visitors to Cirio's project can pay prices ranging from 99 cents for a certificate of incorporation for a real company to $49 for a Cayman Islands mailbox with mail rerouting services. The hack is intended as a political protest against the advantages offshore finance gives to the rich or well-connected.

“Finally, small businesses and middle class people can invoice from the major offshore centers and avoid unfair taxes, legal responsibility, and economic disruption in their own indebted home countries, in a form of global civil disobedience,” Cirio said in a statement.

In order to try and avoid persecution, Cirio says he established a shield company in the City of London named Paolo Cirio Ltd. The Loophall4All site instructs visitors to choose from the name of what it says are more than 200,000 hacked companies, to enter contact info, purchase a digital certificate of incorporation (or, for a higher fee, a variety of printed versions), and to begin invoicing using the hacked tax identification number immediately--effectively sending your bill to one of these companies for collection.

Although Cirio's hack and art project, of course, raise thorny legal issues, they're also helped by the murky and convoluted finance and tax laws of the Cayman Islands. The Caymans are an offshore finance haven and tax shelter routinely used by multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola and Intel. The headquarters of one Cayman Islands-based finance firm, Maples and Calder, was reported by Bloomberg's David Evans as serving as the corporate address for more than 6,000 companies worldwide. According to Foreign Policy's Daniel Keating, it only costs approximately $600 to incorporate your own Cayman Islands company; Caymans addresses shield companies from many American and British tax laws.

Company names available through Cirio's website were reportedly obtained through data scraping. There appears to be an extra-legal aspect: Cirio wrote that “In some cases companies names aren't fully public and the list has been obtained without permission with scrape-hacks.” A list of offshore company registries worldwide was also posted; most of the Cayman firms seem to have been scraped from the Cayman Islands Tax Registry.

This isn't Cirio's first art project involving website hacks. In 2011, Cirio stole more than 1,000 Facebook profiles and reposted them to a fake dating website for his Face to Facebook project to protest the social networking site's constraints. Another project, Street Ghosts, takes life-size photographs of people captured in Google Street View and wheatpastes them in the real-life locations where they were captured in Street View.

[Images: Paolo Cirio]

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