It’s one of the biggest investigative journalism coups in decades.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has released “The Panama Papers,” a cache of more than 11.5 million financial documents and legal records revealing in mind-numbing detail how the rich and powerful stash their cash through tax havens and webs of companies around the world. Or, as the BBC puts it, “They show how the company (Mossack Fonseca) has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade taxes.” (The documents came from Mossack Fonseca, a law firm in Panama … hence the name “Panama Papers.”)
The Mossack Fonseca documents were leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. which then shared them with the ICIJ. In turn, the ICIJ worked with more than 300 journalists at 107 hundred media organisations including The BBC, the Guardian, DR in Denmark, L’Espresso in Italy, La Sexta in Spain and ORF in Austria. Journalists in 78 countries plowed through the documents which include the offshore holdings of drug dealers, train robbers, Mafiosi, corrupt politicians and tax evaders.
The information confirms our worst suspicions … that too many people in high positions are essentially siphoning off the wealth of their own countries, or successfully concealing the vast majority of their wealth or ill-gotten gains from the Taxman.
It takes a good bit of digging through the documents and going website to website to find the news nuggets. And Europe as a whole comes out surprisingly clean with the exception of Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who secretly held a big stake in bank bonds while he was negotiating ending the 2007 financial crisis that sunk Iceland’s economy. The Middle East, Africa and Asia … well, all we can say is, “When you see the web of offshore accounts and companies created by people such as Syria’s Bashar al Assad, when did they have time to actually govern?”
• To absolutely no one’s surprise, Vladimir Putin emerges as the most astute of all current world leaders at manipulating offshore accounts to reward friends and punish enemies. If you don’t have time to read the Panama Papers in full, be sure to read Putin’s section.
• Iceland PM Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought offshore company Wintris in 2007 but forgot to declare their interest in the company when he entered parliament in 2009. He sold his 50 percent of Wintris to his wife for $1 eight months later, according to the BBC. Why is this germane? Because as PM, he was negotiating the settlement terms for Icelandic bank bonds – which he owned through Wintris –that had a direct impact on the value of his holdings.
• Ian Cameron, father of British Prime Minster David Cameron, established a $20 million off-shore company to keep assets away from British tax authorities.
• Mossack Fonseca’s files reveal the law firm and its co-founder, Jürgen Mossack, might have helped conspirators keep the spoils of the 1983 Brinks-Mat Heathrow Airport robbery out of the hands of authorities by protecting a company tied to Gordon Parry, a London wheeler-dealer who laundered money for the plotters.
What’s amazing is so much was revealed through documents from one Panamanian off-shore company. Which makes us wonder, “What else is out there?”