It’s the biggest leak of secret documents in history. It implicates 12 world leaders, 140 politicians and public figures and Forbes-listed 29 billionaires. The Panama Papers comprise more than 11 million internal documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca dating back to 1977. According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), 400 journalists in 80 countries spent a year reviewing the documents before they were released.
The leak reveals the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who owned an offshore account containing millions of dollars during Iceland’s crippling financial crisis. Also implicated is the King of Saudi Arabia (who appears to have used shell companies to take out $34 million worth of mortgages for properties in London), close friends and associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin (who have shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shell companies), the Prime Minister of Pakistan and 33 people and companies that have been blacklisted by the US due to ties with terrorist organisations or drug cartels. 800 Australians have been identified in the documents and are under investigation by the Taxation Office.
While holding funds in offshore accounts is perfectly legal, it is often associated with criminal activities such as money laundering, and this leak has provided an unprecedented look inside the world of tax havens. Mossack Fonseca use intermediary offshore services like banks to help incorporate companies in tax havens such as Switzerland, Cyprus, and the British Virgin Islands. The Panamanian law firm heads a worldwide operation of an estimated 600 people in 47 countries and is the world’s fourth biggest provider of offshore services. The Tax Justice Network estimates that tax havens account for about 50% of all world trade and that offshore accounts could hold between $21-32 trillion.
Video Credit A. Purcell, J. Armstrong, D. Maynard and M. Khalili / theguardian.com