At the beginning of this month, Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca made international headlines following the leak of 11.5 million documents detailing their clients and business practices. Since its founding in 1977, Mossack Fonseca has specialized in the creation of offshore tax accounts, which are often used in an effort to avoid taxes or launder money. While the use of these accounts is not explicitly illegal, the release of these documents demonstrates the amount of wealth that is effectively being hidden from governments by implicated parties around the world. Consisting of 2.6 terabytes of data, the newly dubbed Panama Papers are believed to be the largest data leak to have ever occurred.
The papers first found their way to the hands of the press in late 2014, according to Director of the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism Gerard Ryle. In an anonymous email, the source contacted the Munich-based newspaper Südeutsche Zeitung with the intention of releasing “more [data] than you have ever seen.” After acknowledging that the data leak was too large for a single newspaper to handle, Südeutsche Zeitung contacted the ICIJ to assist in the collections of the files. Much of the information about the data leak was composed over Pretty Good Privacy-encrypted email chats, and the data was gradually released from the source in the form of encrypted hard drives until the entire database of 11.5 million files could be compiled.
The entirety of the data has yet to be released to the public, largely in concern for the repercussions the documents could have if they were released without review. The documents hold the details of over 214,000 offshore accounts, in addition to detailed descriptions on how the assets were hidden from home countries. In light of the data leaks, Mossack Fonseca has released a statement acknowledging that they have encountered a breach in their servers, and stated that “our company does not foster or promote unlawful acts.” The full statement is available at http://poly.news/s/myn2f/.
The analysis of the leak have suggested otherwise. The British Broadcasting Corporation has reviewed the documents from the leak, and has suggested that US life coach and millionaire Marianna Olszewski has been offered fake ownership records in an attempt to hide her assets from the US government. Additionally, the Panama Papers have revealed a suspected money-laundering scheme connected to close associates of Vladimir Putin believed to be on the scale of $1 billion. On April 5, 2016, the Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned from public office amid public protests over his links to an offshore company as revealed in the papers released. The documents released have indicated more than 400 clients in the US and operations all around the world.
While none of the allegations asserted by the papers have been confirmed, the data leak serves to indicate foreign accounts held by 12 current or former heads of state, in addition to nearly 60 other people who are directly connected to current or former world leaders. These documents serve to show nearly every operation that has occurred within the law firm for the past 39 years, and demonstrate the extent to which governments have lost revenue. “I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents,” Ryle said in a statement.