The release just over a month ago of the Panama Papers, the largest data leak of its kind in history, has already sparked global outrage over the tax evasion practices of some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful individuals. And now, it looks as though things are going to get uglier.
On Monday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a database containing “top players in the offshore world,” including key facts about “companies, trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 tax havens, from Hong Kong to Nevada in the United States.” The searchable database “links to people in more than 200 countries and territories.”
Despite this huge reveal, ICIJ deputy director Marina Walker Guevara emphasized that no personal data would be released on a grand scale. “While the database opens up a world that has never been revealed on such a massive scale, the application will not be a ‘data dump’ of the original documents – it will be a careful release of basic corporate information,” Guevara said.
These events come after last Friday’s revelation, during which the anonymous source behind the massive breach spoke out for the first time, noting, “For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own.” In an 1,800-word manifesto issued on the Panama Paper’s website, the source explained the motivation behind the leak, and also alluded to cooperation with law enforcement to bring those guilty to justice.
“Shell companies are often associated with the crime of tax evasion. But the Panama Papers show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal, by definition they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes,” the source wrote Friday. “Income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time.”
And the degree to which government leaders have contributed to that income inequality appears to be the crux of the issue when it comes to the Papers. Already, the document has forced the resignation of leaders like Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who was the prime minister of Iceland until shortly after the data breach. And British Prime Minister David Cameron has been forced to disclose that he held shares in his father’s offshore investment fund, just days before he hosts a global anti-corruption summit in London.
“The prevailing media narrative thus far has focused on the scandal of what is allowed and legal in this system. What is allowed is indeed scandalous and must be changed,” the source wrote. So what’s to be done? The source continues, “In the end, thousands of prosecutions could stem from the Panama Papers, if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents. ICIJ (the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) and its partner publications have rightly stated that they will not provide them to law enforcement agencies. I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able.”
Updated on 05-10-2016 by Lulu Chang: Added information about ICIJ releasing a database of 200,000 offshore accounts.
Article originally published on 05-08-2016.