The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released their Panama Papers database to the public, exposing the details on over 200,000 financial entities used by the rich and powerful. The Papers include 11.5 million documents. The initial release has already led to the ouster of the Icelandic Prime Minister, but journalists say thousands of other prosecutions could be on the way.
According to USA Today, the latest release on Monday is big. The group’s website says that the database now includes information on 320,000 offshore entities over the course of the last 40 years. Those entities link to people and companies in over 200 countries and jurisdictions. The data leak will likely lead to years of investigations, and possibly major changes to national taxation laws.
An unidentified source leaked the Panama Papers from the law firm Mossack Fonseca to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. The paper then turned it over the consortium.
Over 100 media organizations in over 80 countries poured through the information, and a few people are already feeling the consequences. According to ABC News, the Panama Papers revealed that Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, and his family created a shell company in the British Virgin Islands that had holdings in some of Iceland’s failed banks. The conflict of interest was too much for his constituents, and he resigned.
According to Bloomberg, an Austrian CEO and a senior banker at ABN AMRO both resigned after the Panama Papers exposed their offshore ties. Likewise, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he profited from his father’s tax-free, offshore entities, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s friends reportedly floated $2 billion through various accounts.
Mossack Fonseca has filed a cease and desist order, claiming that the Panama Papers leak violates attorney-client privilege. That did not appear to stop the ICIJ.
Still, the consortium is quick to point out in its database disclaimer that the people linked in the Panama Papers are not necessarily criminals.
“There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”
Nevertheless, offshore banking allows the wealthy to launder money and evade taxation. Often, the methods are perfectly legal, but 300 economists explained that it still hurts the poorest countries in an open letter from organized by Oxfam.
“As the Panama Papers and other recent exposés have revealed, the secrecy provided by tax havens fuels corruption and undermines countries’ ability to collect their fair share of taxes. While all countries are hit by tax dodging, poor countries are proportionately the biggest losers, missing out on at least $170 (billion) of taxes annually as a result.”
President Obama also proposed a plan to crackdown on offshore tax evasion. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the president plans to use executive orders to close loopholes exploited by foreign nationals in the U.S. and ask Congress to take legislative steps as well. One of the new transparency rules will force banks to verify the identity of a shell company owner.
USA Today says that there are at least 36 Americans exposed in the Panama Papers, but the U.S. has been largely untouched. The Tax Justice Index ranks the U.S. as third in its financial secrecy index, explaining it holds roughly 20 percent of the global market for offshore financial services. That means America’s wealthy likely don’t need Panama.
The searchable Panama Papers database from the ICIJ is available here.
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