The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on Monday published online detailed data from the Panama Papers trove on more than 200,000 secret offshore companies.
The searchable database built on just a portion of the documents leaked from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca reveals more than 360,000 names of individuals and companies behind the anonymous shell firms, the ICIJ said.
Reports already published in April based on the explosive dossier linked some of the world’s most powerful leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others to unreported offshore companies.
The data forced the resignations of Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and Spain’s industry minister Jose Manuel Soria.
Until now access to the total cache of 11.5 million documents, originally provided by a mysterious “John Doe”, was restricted to the ICIJ and a select group of international media.
– ‘In the public interest’ –
ICIJ said Monday it is publishing some of the information catalogued in a database “in the public interest,” as a global movement against tax evasion and the secrecy accorded the beneficial owners of anonymous shell companies gains force.
The database “allows users to explore the networks of companies and people that used — and sometimes abused — the secrecy of offshore locales with the help of Mossack Fonseca and other intermediaries,” the ICIJ said.
But it said it was not making available raw records online, nor was it putting all the information from the records out, in part to prevent access to bank account details and personal data of those mentioned.
The data came from nearly four decades of digital archives of Mossack Fonseca, one of the leading firms in the world for creating secret companies.
It is not known how the documents came to light; Mossack Fonseca says its computer records were hacked from abroad.
However they were obtained, “John Doe” first provided them to the German newspaper Süeddeustche Zeitung, which then approached ICIJ to organize a collective analysis of them.
– Criminals, filmmakers, footballers –
Reports thus far have focused on scores of high-profile individuals: political leaders, celebrities and a few criminals.
– Iceland’s Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign when his name was linked to an offshore company.
– Britain’s Cameron ended up admitting he profited from an offshore firm started by his father.
– Putin’s closest circle was named in the revelations, prompting the Russian leader to claim the Panama Papers was a US plot against him.
– Argentine President Mauricio Macri was also linked to offshore companies.
– China censored media and online social networks from mentioning links between the families of Chinese leaders with offshore entities.
– Other notable figures made uncomfortable by the documents include Argentine football star Lionel Messi, Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan and Spanish movie director Pedro Almodovar.
Mossack Fonseca on Thursday issued a “cease and desist” lawyer to the US-based ICIJ, saying that to put up the information publicly would violate attorney-client privilege.
But ICIJ says it is important the public be able to look at information on any offshore company in the Panama Papers.
“We think that information about who owns the company should be public and transparent,” Marina Walker Guevara, deputy director of the ICIJ, told CNN.
She stressed, however, that “this is not disclosing private information en masse.”
Since reporting on the Panama Papers started at the beginning of April, Panama’s government has been struggling to persuade the world that it is not a haven for tax-dodgers and money launderers.