The Panama Papers

Haleigh Monahan

In April 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) leaked the Panama Papers, an 11.5 million documents detailing the offshore bank accounts of people from all over the world, and on May 9, 2016 they provided the world with a searchable database for these documents. The Panama Papers represent 2.6 terabytes of data leaked by an anonymous whistleblower to the ICIJ. 2.6 terabytes, in every sense of the word, dwarfs Cablegate and the Pentagon Papers. Their measly sum of 258,287 documents is nothing to the Panama Paper’s 11.5 million. The Pentagon Papers of 1971, which revealed the systematic lies told to the public about the Vietnam War by the Johnson administration, was a collection of 7,000 classified documents that would equal a few dozen megabytes on a computer system today. When Wikileaks published Cablegate in 2010, they released 1.73 gigabytes of State Department cables–that’s 251,287 classified documents.

Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm, helped the wealthy and powerful evade their country’s taxes for almost half a century. Using shell companies and offshore accounts, these clients were able to stow their cash away in tax havens, effectively robbing their home countries of billions of dollars. According to ICIJ, a Uganda based country attempted to buy a domestic oilfield, and avoided the country’s taxes by moving money through accounts in distant countries. While Uganda attacked the country in court and tried to get them to pay their taxes, many people in rural Uganda suffered from lack of funding to critical sectors such as healthcare. In some places in Uganda, patients are turned away and currently the country suffers the 32nd highest infant mortality rate.

Other clients of Mossack Fonseca have used their services to hide even more sinister actions, such as participation in the drug trade and human trafficking. According to ICIJ, Russian businessmen kidnapped girls and women as young as 13 and sold them into sex slavery; the Panama Papers have revealed that one of the heads of this trade in Russia was a client of Mossack Fonseca, and when the firm discovered this client was not only a pedophile, but a sex trafficker, it did not report his crimes, and according to ICIJ, the firm “felt they were not legally obliged to report his offshore finances.”

Other clients of the firm, wield considerable power in domestic and world politics. As of now, 143 current and former politicians and world leaders have been revealed as clients of Mossack Fonseca, such as Bashar Al-Assad (prime minister of Syria), the Icelandic Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and a quarter of his cabinet, father of the current UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and those close to Vladimir Putin.