Panama Papers

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Panama Papers
Countries with public officials implicated in the leak
DescriptionRelease of 11.5 million documents (2.6 Terabytes)[1]
Date of documents1970s – 2016[1]
Period of releaseApril 2016[1]
Key publishersSüddeutsche Zeitung, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Related articlesList of people named in the Panama Papers

The Panama Papers are a set of 11.5 million confidential documents created by the Panamanian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca that provide detailed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies, including the identities of shareholders and directors. The acting heads of state of five countries, namely Argentina, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates are identified in the documents, as are government officials, close relatives and close associates of various heads of government of over 40 other countries, including China, Brazil, France, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, United Kingdom and Syria.

Comprising 11.5 million documents created since the 1970s, the 2.6-terabyte set was given to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2015 and subsequently to the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).[2] The papers were distributed to and analyzed by about 400 journalists at 107 media organizations in more than 80 countries. The first news reports based on the set, along with 149 of the documents themselves,[3] were published on April 3, 2016.[1] Among other planned disclosures, the full list of companies is to be released in early May.[4]


Mossack Fonseca is a Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider founded in 1977 by Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca.[5] The company's services include incorporating companies in offshore jurisdictions, administering offshore firms and providing wealth management services.[6] The company has more than 500 employees in more than 40 offices around the world.[5] The firm has acted on behalf of more than 300,000 companies, most of which are registered in the UK or are British-administered tax havens.[6]

The firm works with the world’s biggest financial institutions, such as Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS and Commerzbank.[5] Before the Panama Papers leak, Mossack Fonseca was described by the Economist as a "tight-lipped" industry leader in offshore finance.[7] An article on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website explains:

Using complex shell company structures and trust accounts Mossack Fonseca services allow its clients to operate behind an often impenetrable wall of secrecy. Mossack Fonseca's success relies on a global network of accountants and prestigious banks that hire the law firm to manage the finances of their wealthy clients. Banks are the big drivers behind the creation of hard-to-trace companies in tax havens.

Much of the firm's work is perfectly legal and benign. But for the first time the leak takes us inside its inner workings, providing rare insight into an operation which offers shady operators plenty of room to manoeuvre.[8]


The leak consists of 11.5 million documents created between the 1970s and early 2016 by the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, which The Guardian described as "the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm".[9] The 2.6 terabytes of data include information on 214,488 offshore entities related to public officials.[10] The papers were reviewed by journalists across 80 countries.[9] Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, predicted that the leak would be "the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken" due to the breadth of leaked documents.[11]


Early reports noted financial and power connections between multiple high-ranking political figures and their relatives.[12][9][13] For example, the Argentine President Mauricio Macri was listed as a director of a Bahamas-based trading company that he did not disclose when mayor of Buenos Aires; it is not clear whether disclosure of non-equity directorships was then required.[12] The Guardian reported that the leak revealed an extensive conflict of interest connection between a member of the FIFA Ethics Committee and former FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo.[14]

Several acting heads of state have been named in the Panama Papers, including presidents Mauricio Macri of Argentina, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of United Arab Emirates, Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, as well as King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and the Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.[13] Among the former country leaders, there were prime-ministers of Georgia (Bidzina Ivanishvili), Iraq (Ayad Allawi), Jordan (Ali Abu al-Ragheb), Qatar (Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani) and Ukraine (Pavlo Lazarenko), as well as Sudanese President Ahmed al-Mirghani and Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.[13]

Government officials, as well as close relatives and close associates of various heads of government from well over 40 different countries have also been named, including those from Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Malta, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Syria, United Kingdom, Venezuela and Zambia.[13] According to The Guardian, the name of Vladimir Putin "does not appear in any of the records", but it published a lengthy report about three of his friends on the list, claiming that business success of his friends "could not have been secured without his patronage."[15]

Several high profile individuals connected with the world governing body of association football, FIFA, include former President of CONMEBOL Eugenio Figueredo,[14] former President of UEFA Michel Platini,[16] former Secretary General of FIFA Jérôme Valcke, [16] as well as current Argentine player Lionel Messi.[14] Indian actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan have been named amongst other Indians by The Indian Express.[17]


Mossack Fonseca has managed a large number of companies over the years, with the number of active companies having peaked at over 80,000 in 2009. Over 210,000 companies in 21 offshore jurisdictions appear in Mossack Fonseca’s files, more than half of which were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and many others in Panama, Bahamas, Seychelles, Niue and Samoa. Over the years, Mossack Fonseca worked with clients in more than 100 countries, the most of incorporations were from Hong Kong, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Panama, and Cyprus. Mossack Fonseca worked with more than 14,000 banks, law firms, company incorporators and others to set up companies, foundations and trusts for these clients. More than 500 banks registered nearly 15,600 shell companies with Mossack Fonseca with HSBC and its affiliates created more than 2,300 in total, and Dexia (Luxembourg), J. Safra Sarasin (Luxembourg), Credit Suisse (Channel Islands), and UBS (Switzerland) requesting at least 500 offshore companies for their clients.[18]


More than a year before the first publication of the Panama leaks in April 2016, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung received 2.6 terabytes of documents related to Mossack Fonseca from an anonymous source.[1]

The total size of the leaked documents dwarfs that of the Wikileaks Cablegate 2010[1] (1.7 GB),[19] Offshore Leaks 2013 (260 GB), Lux Leaks 2014 (4 GB), and Swiss Leaks 2015 (3.3 GB). The data primarily comprises e-mails, PDF files, photos, and excerpts of an internal Mossack Fonseca database. It covers a period spanning from the 1970s to the spring of 2016.[1] The Panama Papers leak provide data on some 214,000 companies. There is a folder for each shell firm that contains e-mails, contracts, transcripts, and scanned documents.[1] The leak comprises 4,804,618 emails, 3,047,306 database format files, 2,154,264 PDFs, 1,117,026 images, 320,166 text files, and 2,242 files in other formats.[1]

The data had to be systematically indexed. This was done with a proprietary software called Nuix, which is also used by international investigators. The documents were fed to high-performance computers for optical character recognition processing, making the data machine-readable and searchable. Compiled lists of important persons were then cross matched against the processed documents.[1] The next step in the analysis is to connect persons, roles, flow of money and legality of structures.[1]


In response to queries from the The Miami Herald, Mossack Fonseca identified legal and compliance regimes around the world that reduce the ability of individuals to use offshore companies for tax avoidance and total anonymity. In particular, they cited the FATF protocols that (for companies and financial institutions in the majority of countries in the world) require identification of ultimate beneficial owners of all companies (including offshore companies) in order to open accounts and transact business.[20]

Following an interview in advance of the leak, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and his wife issued public statements about journalist encroachment in their private lives and insisted on the completeness of their legal disclosures. Sigmundur Davíð was expected to receive calls for a snap election in parliament.[21]

An HSBC spokesman commented that "the allegations are historical, in some cases dating back 20 years, predating our significant, well-publicized reforms implemented over the last few years."[22]

The leak is described by Edward Snowden as the "biggest leak in the history of data journalism".[23]

Official reactions and investigations

The Australian Tax Office subsequently announced that it was investigating 800 individual Australian taxpayers who were clients of Mossack Fonesca and that some of the cases could be referred to the country's Serious Financial Crime Task Force.[24] The United Kingdom's tax office, HM Revenue and Customs, said that they had approached the ICIJ for access to the material in the papers and that they would "closely examine this data and will act on it swiftly and appropriately".[25] New Zealand's Inland Revenue Department said that they were working to obtain details of people resident for tax in the country who may have been involved in arrangements facilitated by Mossack Fonseca.[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Obermaier, Frederik; Obermayer, Bastian; Wormer, Vanessa; Jaschensky, Wolfgang (April 3, 2016). "About the Panama Papers". Süddeutsche Zeitung. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ Vasilyeva, Natalya; Anderson, Mae (April 3, 2016). "News Group Claims Huge Trove of Data on Offshore Accounts". The New York Times. Associated Press. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  3. ^ "DocumentCloud 149 Results Source: Internal documents from Mossack Fonseca (Panama Papers) – Provider: Amazon Technologies / Owner: Perfect Privacy, LLC USA". Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  4. ^ "The Panama Papers: Data Metholodogy". ICIJ. April 3, 2016. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ a b c Hamilton, Martha M. (April 3, 2016). "Panamanian Law Firm Is Gatekeeper To Vast Flow of Murky Offshore Secrets". International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Harding, Luke (April 3, 2016). "The Panama Papers: what you need to know". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  7. ^ Silverstein, Ken (December 3, 2014). "The Law Firm That Works with Oligarchs, Money Launderers, and Dictators". Vice Media. VICE Magazine. Retrieved April 4, 2016. |archive-url= is malformed: save command (help)
  8. ^ "Panama Papers and Mossack Fonseca explained". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. April 4, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Garside, Juliette; Watt, Holly; Pegg, David (April 3, 2016). "The Panama Papers: how the world's rich and famous hide their money offshore". The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  10. ^ "Giant leak of offshore financial records exposes global array of crime and corruption". OCCRP. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. April 3, 2016. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016.
  11. ^ Bilton, Richard (April 3, 2016). "Panama Papers: Mossack Fonseca leak reveals elite's tax havens". BBC News. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  12. ^ a b Fusion Investigative Unit (April 3, 2016). "Here are the famous politicos in 'the Wikileaks of the mega-rich'". Fusion. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  13. ^ a b c d "Panama Papers: The Power Players". International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  14. ^ a b c Gibson, Owen (April 3, 2016). "Leaked papers give Fifa ethics committee new credibility crisis". The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  15. ^ Harding, Luke (April 3, 2016). "Revealed: the $2bn offshore trail that leads to Vladimir Putin". London: The Guardian.
  16. ^ a b "Group of death: FIFA officials' financial secrets exposed in new Wikileaks-style trove". Fusion. April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016.
  17. ^ "Indians in Panama Papers list: Amitabh Bachchan, KP Singh, Aishwarya Rai, Iqbal Mirchi, Adani elder brother". The Indian Express. April 4, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  18. ^ "The Panama Papers Numbers". Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  19. ^ Kraft, Steffen (August 25, 2011). "Leck bei Wikileaks". Der Freitag (in German). Archived from the original on March 7, 2012. Retrieved March 7, 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help); Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)
  20. ^ "Mossack Fonseca responds to Miami Herald 'Secret Shell Game' series on offshore companies". The Miami Herald. April 3, 2016. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  21. ^ Bowers, Simon (April 3, 2016). "Iceland's PM faces calls for snap election after offshore revelations". The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  22. ^ "Trove of Data on Offshore Accounts Prompts Probe, Questions". The New York Times. The Associated Press. April 4, 2016. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  23. ^ Snowden, Edward. "Twitter". Twitter. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2016. Biggest leak in the history of data journalism just went live, and it's about corruption.
  24. ^ Chenoweth, Neil (April 4, 2016). "Panama Papers: ATO investigating more than 800 Australian clients of Mossack Fonseca". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  25. ^ "HMRC ready to follow up Panama papers allegations". ITV News. April 4, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  26. ^ Wardell, Jane; Moreno, Elida (April 4, 2016). "Tax authorities begin probes into some people named in Panama Papers leak". Reuters. Retrieved April 4, 2016.

External links