Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
On 3 April 2016, over a year ago, the Panama Papers leak took place. It was an event which sent shockwaves around the world and affected virtually all nations.
A 2.6 terabyte-large stack of 11.5 million confidential documents was leaked to the public by a team of 400 journalists employed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The leak was the result of a year-long investigation by the ICIJ. The data was initially leaked to a German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. This newspaper shared the data with the ICIJ, which employed 400 journalists from 76 countries to analyse 40 years’ worth of data.
The leaked files contained information of the offshore holdings of 140 politicians, 12 current and former world leaders, 214,000 companies, and other public personalities from over 200 countries.
The leaks revealed offshore dealings and ways in which the world’s wealthy used offshore companies to stash assets (Panama is known for being a tax haven). The findings centred around the dealings of a Panamanian law firm named Mossack Fonseca.
Findings of the investigation began to appear in major media from 3 April 2016.
Revelations continue to trickle out.
“The cat’s out of the bag … So now we have to deal with the aftermath.” – Jurgen Mossack, lawyer at Mossack Fonseca.
Following the release of the Panama Papers, there was massive outrage around the world.
The first casualty was the Icelandic Prime Minister – Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson – who was forced to resign on 5 April (only two days after the leak) due to protests over his offshore dealings.UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Khulubuse Zuma and many other major world figures were named or implicated in the leak.
(For the full, detailed list of the individuals named in the leak, the reader can visit the official ICIJ link.)
Among those named in the documents, the Indians include actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, DLF owner KP Singh, lawyer Harish Salve, Onkar Kanwar of the Apollo group, late Mumbai gangster Iqbal Mirchi, West Bengal politician Shishir Bajoria, Anurag Kejriwal of Loksatta Party – among others.
The Panama Papers leak also revealed five people from Bhopal who deposited money in offshore accounts in tax havens. The names of Nitika Agarwal, Anurup Kumar Srivastava, Sanjiv Mohan Gupta, Sapna Gupta and Jayant Sharma surfaced in the data. Nitika Agarwal is the director of the Bhaskar Group while Sanjiv Mohan Gupta and Sapna Gupta are the directors of the Jagran Group.
The investigation in India into the leaked data has become the largest offshore inquiry initiated in the country. So far, over 400 Indians are under scrutiny as part of the Panama Papers probe.
To probe the actions of those named in the Papers, the government formed a multi-agency group. This investigative team consists of officers from CBDT, the Enforcement Directorate, Financial Intelligence Unit and the RBI.
Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said the government has taken several measures, both by way of policy-level initiatives as well as through enforcement actions on the ground, to effectively deal with the issue of black money stashed abroad.
Minister of State for Finance Santosh Gangwar said, “There has been significant rise in criminal prosecutions filed by the IT department also during the last two years and number of cases where prosecution complaints were filed and offences were compounded is 3,140 as against 1,690 in 2012-13 and 2013-14 … [The multi-agency] group has been asked to report the progress in such cases on regular basis … The government has taken necessary measures for expeditious investigation in such cases including through enhanced international cooperation.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of India heard a plea in April this year to enable the Central Bureau of Investigation to file FIRs and launch investigations under the Prevention of Corruption Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act against those whose names surfaced in the leak.
The investigation has been extensive but also relatively slow. The first case of substantial seizures by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) took place only in June 2017 when the ED issued orders for freezing Rs 7-crore worth of movable assets of Delhi-based jeweller Ashwani Kumar Mehra and members of his family.
More than a year since the leak, the investigation continues. The ICIJ has added over 100 additional reporters. The team now consists of 500 journalists.
The work of ICIJ and its many global partners has gone on to be honoured with prizes or being shortlisted for dozens of international awards.
The biggest award, however, was the revelation of truth. In the year following the advent of the Panama Papers, what followed was the toppling of Prime Ministers, incrimination of heads of states and massive protests against corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
The impact of the Papers has been far-reaching:
Now, with the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualifying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (read judgement here), Sharif is the latest giant to be toppled and the latest corrupt leader to be held accountable thanks to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The Logical Indian community hopes that the multi-agency team tasked with probing the leak in India manages to complete its work deftly and swiftly. The over 400 Indians named should be investigated for any wrongdoing or legal excesses, the Prevention of Corruption Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act should be utilised to expose the corrupt and the Supreme Court should urgently act on the aforementioned plea to accelerate the investigation’s pace by bringing the CBI into the fray.
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