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.
John Doe: Hello. This is John Doe. Interested in data?
Süddeutsche Zeitung (German newspaper): We’re very interested.
John Doe: There are a couple of conditions. My life is in danger. We will only chat over encrypted files. No meeting, ever. The choice of stories is obviously up to you.
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Why are you doing this?
John Doe: I want to make these crimes public.
Süddeutsche Zeitung: How much data are we talking about?
John Doe: More than anything you have ever seen. – John Doe (the anonymous source for the Panama Papers data) and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, with whom the data was shared.
On 3 April 2016, exactly 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 in 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, after days of flip-flopping, confirmed a direct link to the offshore tax haven on 7 April. There were subsequent calls for Cameron’s resignation, while his approval ratings plummeted.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family were implicated over their network of businesses that include steel, sugar and paper mills and extensive international property holdings. At various times, depending on the political party in power, the Sharifs – one of Pakistan’s richest families – have been accused of corruption, ownership of illegal assets, tax avoidance and money laundering.
Documents revealed complex offshore financial deals forged to channel money and power towards a network of people and companies linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to ICIJ’s analysis, as much as $2 billion has been secretly shuffled through banks and shadow companies linked to Putin’s associates
The owner of Ukraine’s largest confectionery business (Roshen) was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Poroshenko had announced that he would sell his company after his victory; but the leaked papers reveal that he moved his business to the British Virgin Islands, an offshore destination that helps evade taxes.
Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of South African President Jacob Zuma, has been named in the leak. He has been linked to a company, Caprikat Limited, that is reportedly involved in a controversial oil deal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For the full, detailed list of the individuals named in the leak, the reader can visit the official ICIJ link.
The investigation in India into the leaked data has become the largest offshore inquiry initiated in the country. So far, 415 Indians are under scrutiny as part of the Panama Papers probe.
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. All three have refused to comment on the allegations.
A year since the leak, the investigation continues. 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. As Hamish Boland-Rudder reported, in the year following the advent of the Panama Papers, what followed was the toppling of Prime Ministers, incrimination of heads of states, massive protests against corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. The impact of the Papers has been far-reaching:
Currently, ICIJ is aiming to raise $50,000 to contribute towards further investigation. The organisation looks to the public to pledge its support in ICIJ’s mission to expose wrongdoing and to hold the world’s most powerful people to account.
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