Award 2017 Nominee
Panama Papers – The Secrets of Dirty Money
The trove of documents is likely the biggest leak of inside information in history. It includes nearly 40 years of data from a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama. That firm, Mossack Fonseca, has offices in more than 35 locations around the globe, and is one of the world’s top creators of shell companies, corporate structures that can be used to hide ownership of assets. The joint analysis of the leaked records revealed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories.
Why this should matter? The flow of money into tax havens is driving inequality and poverty around the globe. The Panama Papers showed that there is a parallel world offshore in which the rich and powerful enjoy the freedom to avoid laws they find inconvenient. If lawmakers and investigators don’t dismantle this world, if they allow this second set of rules for the 1% of rich people who know how to exploit it, our democracy is at stake. The problem is not only about taxes. It’s about the use of offshorecompanies to plunder whole countries’ treasuries, to breach sanctions and to run criminal organisations and operate Ponzi schemes and other sophisticated frauds.
The revelations produced by the Panama Papers reporting partnership produced hundreds of official reactions – a mix of investigations, fines, high-profile resignations, police raids, arrests, national legal reforms and international conclaves. At least 150 inquiries, audits or investigations have been announced by police, customs, financial crime and mafia prosecutors, judges and courts, tax authorities, parliaments and corporate reviews in 79 countries around the world, according to global media reports and official statements. Thousands of taxpayers and companies are under investigation.
Legislatures from Ireland to Mongolia to Panama have rushed through laws to strengthen weaknesses pinpointed by the media partnership’s reporting. Governments have already reported recouping tens of millions of dollars in taxes on previously undeclared funds. Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency, revealed that it had found 3,469 probable matches between the Panama Papers database and information in its own files about organized crime, tax fraud and other criminality. Out of those matches, 116 related to Europol’s project on Islamic terrorism, codenamed Hydra.
Two world leaders, in Argentina and Pakistan, remain ensnared in public scandals and ongoing probes related to the Panama Papers. In Argentina, a federal prosecutor is examining President Mauricio Macri’s directorship of a Bahamian company that he had failed to include in public financial disclosures when he was mayor of Buenos Aires. Pakistan’s Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition brought by the political opposition against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose children owned real estate in London through companies created by Mossack Fonseca, documents in the Panama Papers show. Across four continents, police have raided warehouses, offices and homes. Government officials in three countries have resigned, including a prime minister and an energy and industry minister. Business executives and attorneys are behind bars awaiting criminal trials in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America.
Even as the Panama Papers disclosures have sparked outrage around the world, they have also provoked pushback from individuals and governments displeased with revelations of the hidden economic holdings of the global elite. Politicians, business executives and thousands of their supporters have responded with vitriol, threats, cyberattacks and lawsuits. In Turkey, a newspaper partner in the investigative collaboration, Cumhuriyet, reported that a construction and energy executive with connections to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened its journalists for publishing his photo as part of its Panama Papers coverage. The Finnish tax authority threatened to raid journalists’ homes and seize documents, an unprecedented move in Finland’s liberal media environment. Authorities backed down following protests. Finnish broadcaster YLE has filed a court appeal in an effort to definitively block the tax authority’s demands for information.
In Spain Grupo Prisa, the parent company of major newspaper El País, announced plans to sue Panama Papers media partner, El Confidencial, for $9 million. According to El Confidencial, Grupo Prisa acknowledged the accuracy of El Confidencial’s reporting but claimed that Panama Papers revelations tying an offshore company to the ex-wife of Grupo Prisa’s chairman, Juan Luis Cebrián, amounted to unfair competition. Cebrián’s ex-wife linked the company to Cebrián’s business and said that she had no role in its operations, a claim Cebrián denies.
Although it was Süddeutsche Zeitung that originally received the Panama-Papersdocuments from an anonymous source, the team of journalists grew to meet the challenges of the scope and important of what was inside the leaked documents. More than 150 European journalists and the ICIJ were all part of the same team and worked together for nearly a year on this biggest journalistic collaboration worldwide. The investigative efforts combined traditional shoe-leather reporting and state-of-the art technology that allowed reporters the world over to work together safely on a story of global significance.