The newly leaked Panama Papers reveal information about offshore holdings that involve world leaders, celebrities, politicians and the world’s richest. Here’s how it came about.
According to Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), it was more than a year ago when an anonymous source had contacted them and submitted encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that readily administers offshore firms around the world. These shell firms allow companies and individuals to cover up their dealings.
The leak contains as much as 2.6 terabytes of data. The biggest information leak known, it has been worked on in cooperation with a number of journalists from some of the biggest news companies around the world, including BBC, Guardian, Le Monde in France, La Nación in Argentina, Sonntagszeitung in Switzerland and Falter Australia.
Moreover, German public broadcasters NDR and WDR had also been involved. In addition, the data was analyzed with the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). SZ previously worked with ICJ on Offshore Leaks, Luxembourg Leaks and Swiss Leaks projects. Nonetheless, SZ said the Panama Papers is the “biggest-ever cooperation of its kind.” It involved 400 journalists from 100 media organizations spread over 80 countries working on the project in a span of 12 months.
The Panama Papers include 11.5 million documents. They are made up of e-mails, photos, PDFs and excerpts from the internal Mossack Fonseca database, which were produced or discovered from 1970 to the spring of 2016. The data has been organized per shell firm that has been uncovered.
Mossack Fonseca is said to have various offices all over the world. It tends to sell shell companies in cities such as Hong Kong, Zurich and London. At times, it has sold shell companies to clients for as little as $1,000. And for an additional fee, the company can also provide the client with a “sham director” while it can also be requested to conceal the company’s true shareholder.
Meanwhile, Mossack Fonseca took great pains to conceal the names of the true company owners for the shell companies it has established. This is done in cooperation with banks, lawyers and investment advisors that have further hidden client’s names by using proxies.
In the end, however, journalists’ works revealed that the proxies led to names of various heads of states, millionaires as well as other important officials. ICIJ said as much as 12 current formal and world leaders have done business with Mossack Fonseca, including Vladimir Putin.
Moreover, a look at the documents will also reveal corruption practices as well as a number of bribery scandals.