Panama papers shed light on worldwide corruption

The massive document leak revealed a number of prominent people’s involvement in offshore shell companies.

Jacqueline Lewis, Writer

On April 3, 2016, a leak of approximately 11.5 million documents regarding 214,000 shell companies may have revealed a number of the world’s rich and famous’ use of offshore tax havens.

The numerous emails, images, databases, PDFs and text documents named everyone from politicians, billionaires, celebrities and even royalty from over 200 countries and territories, which included the Saudi king, the pro-Western president of Ukraine and the leaders of Iceland and Pakistan, according to The Atlantic.

Largest Data Leak

The massive 2.6-terabyte leak from the database of Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, was dubbed the Panama Papers and became the largest data leak in the history of journalism.

The data was obtained over a year ago from an anonymous source who called himself “John Doe” and contacted German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which analyzed it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ. As time progressed, ICIJ shared the information with hundreds of journalists and media organizations from 80 different countries who continued to research the information. This international network included British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, Le Monde of France and La Nación, of Argentina.


Now, owning an offshore shell company is neither illegal nor difficult as an article in The Atlantic points out. Many of the people named in the papers have stated they did not participate in any illegal activity and they could very well be telling the truth. There are a variety of legitimate reasons people might purchase a shell company. For example, as stated by The New York Times, “many countries allow land to be owned only by citizens or locally registered companies. So a foreigner seeking a retirement or vacation home would set up a local shell company to purchase the property.”

Additionally, corporations who wish to establish joint ventures in countries without a reliable legal system may want to do so through an offshore company in order to gain access to stronger courts and operate under more sophisticated financial laws. According to the New York Times ,“they may be set up for other aboveboard financial planning purposes as well, with no intent to deceive the authorities.”

The Ease and the Problem

Fusion’s Natasha Del Toro even demonstrated the ease with which someone could establish an offshore shell company when she established one for her cat, Suki.

The problem with these offshore companies is that because they allow people to hold money with little to no government oversight, they create an environment where it becomes all too easy to participate in tax evasion, money laundering and a variety of other corrupt business practices.

Many will say this is not news. Everyone knows many rich and powerful people hide their money to become even wealthier and hide their criminal activities.

Existing in Shadows

But the significance of the leak is stated well in Süddeutsche Zeitung’s report where they note “The data provides rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows. It proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous.”

Hopefully because of this new information, we will soon bring those involved in illegal activities to justice and continue to fight against corruption among some of the rich and powerful.

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