A massive leak of financial documents revealed how the ultra-wealthy and powerful, including the Queen's private estate, have secretly invested vast amounts of money in offshore tax havens.

The leak, referred to as the Paradise Papers, also revealed US President Donald Trump's commerce secretary has a stake in a firm dealing with US sanctioned Russians, the BBC reported. The Paradise Papers contain 13.4m documents, primarily from one leading firm in offshore finance.

The documents were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to oversee the investigation. The Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times are among the nearly 100 media groups investigating the documents.

The Queen's investments

The investigation revealed that millions of pounds from the Queen's private estate was invested in a Cayman Islands fund as part of an offshore portfolio, The Guardian reported.

The Queen, through the Duchy of Lancaster, has held and continues to hold investments via funds that have put money into a number of businesses, including the off-licence chain Threshers and the retailer BrightHouse.

According to the Guardian, the duchy admitted it had no idea about its 12-year investment in BrightHouse until the newspaper approached it during the investigation. The retailer has faced criticism for exploiting thousands of poor families and vulnerable people.

The duchy did not disclose the size of its original 2005 investment, referring to its stake in the retailer as "negligible". Since the boom in the company's value during that time, BrightHouse has been accused of overcharging and using hard sell tactics on customers with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

In October, BrightHouse was ordered to pay £14.8m in compensation to 249,000 customers, the Guardian reported.

The Duchy of Lancaster did disclose that it had made investments in "a few overseas funds," including one in Ireland.

Queen Paradise papers
The Queen's private estate, through the Duchy of Lancaster, invested millions of pounds in a Cayman Islands fund as part of an offshore portfolio. Eddie Mulholland - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Wilbur Ross' links to sanctioned Russians

A member of Donald Trump's Cabinet has been found to have business links with Russian allies of President Vladimir Putin, who are sanctioned by the US, the Paradise Papers also revealed.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has interests in Navigator Holdings, which earns millions a year transporting oil and gas for Russian energy company Sibur, the BBC reported. Two major shareholders of the firm are under US sanctions.

"Secretary Ross recuses himself from any matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels," a commerce department spokesman said, adding Ross "works closely with Commerce Department ethics officials to ensure the highest ethical standards".

The BBC noted that Putin's son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov holds a 3.9% stake in the firm. Gennady Timchenko, who is individually sanctioned by the US, and Leonid Mikhelson, whose firm Novatek is sanctioned, are major Sibur shareholders.

Neither Sibur nor Shamalov are under sanctions, but Shamalov's father, Nikolai, is.

The commerce department spokesman said Ross never met the three Russian shareholders. However, the discovery will raise additional questions about the Russian ties to Trump's team.

Wilbur Ross
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been linked to at least two Russians under US sanctions by the Paradise Papers Drew Angerer/ Getty Images