The Panama Papers, a leak of 11 million documents from “one of the most secret firms on the planet,” reveals where the world’s richest and most famous hide their money. Counted among those stashing away money are many of the most influential world leaders including President Putin, the Saudi royal family, the Icelandic Prime Minister, and the family of the President of Azerbaijan.
As reported by the BBC, the Panama papers were leaked from a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca. The papers “show how the firm helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax.”
People named so far include Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who “had an undeclared interest in his country’s bailed-out banks.” Several of President Putin’s close associates, including his daughter’s godfather, have been named as being part of a “billion dollar” money-laundering ring.
The Panama Papers were leaked to a German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The BBC is reviewing the papers – over 2.6 terabytes of information on more than 300,000 companies – for a documentary. The BBC says they have “found links to 72 current or former heads of state” in the papers.
The Panama Papers are being called “the biggest leak in the history of data journalism,” and are “break[ing] the Internet.”
The enormity of what the Panama papers represent can be confusing. Many of the world’s largest media organizations, (with the notable exception of most in the U.S., Ukraine, and Russia) are attempting to make the sheer volume of information accessible to the public.
According to The Guardian, Mossack Fonseca insists that it has done nothing wrong.
“Mossack Fonesca says it complies with anti-money-laundering laws and carries out thorough due diligence on all its clients. It says it regrets any misuse of its services and tries actively to prevent it. The firm says it cannot be blamed for failings by intermediaries, who include banks, law firms and accountants.”
The company has a strong connection with the United Kingdom, with “more than half the companies…registered in British-administered tax havens, as well as in the UK itself.”
The Panama Papers “provide(s) details of the hidden financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials around the world,” according to the ICIJ.
The papers reveal the “global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars.”
The ICIJ, together with Sueddeutsche Zeitung and “over 100 reporting partners” including “370 journalists from 76 countries” have been investigating the leaked documents for over a year. The scope of those involved is almost unbelievably vast and incredibly troubling.
“[The papers] include at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran”
Perhaps the most sobering point about the Panama Papers is the fact that many “anti-corruption” leaders are involved in the scandal.
“The files revealed companies linked to the family of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, who has vowed to fight “armies of corruption,” as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has positioned himself as a reformer in a country shaken by corruption scandals. The files also contain new details of offshore dealings by the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, a leader in the push for tax-haven reform.”
Offshore tax havens are of course legal, but the Panama Papers reveal that many companies failed to ensure “their clients are not involved in criminal enterprises, tax dodging or political corruption. In some instances, the files show, offshore middlemen have protected themselves and their clients by concealing suspect transactions or manipulating official records.”
[Photo by Arnulfo Franco/AP Images]