“Biggest leak in the history of data journalism just went live, and it’s about corruption.”


It’s too much. The sheer volume of the Panama Papers may make its message indigestible — 2.6 terabytes of data? Of accounting data? It’s not exactly the kind of thing I’m going to crack open to read before bedtime.

But this summary of the initial disclosures is helpful.

* Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

* A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend – a cellist called Sergei Roldugin – is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married.

* Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

* Six members of the House of Lords, three former Conservative MPs and dozens of donors to UK political parties have had offshore assets. The families of at least eight current and former members of China’s supreme ruling body, the politburo, have been found to have hidden wealth offshore.

* Twenty-three individuals who have had sanctions imposed on them for supporting the regimes in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, Iran and Syria have been clients of Mossack Fonseca. Their companies were harboured by the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other jurisdictions.

* A key member of Fifa’s powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be spearheading reform at world football’s scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and corruption.

That’s just the early disclosures as people start wading through it all. There are rumors that some Americans are going to be implicated in the corruption, too…just give them time.

Another factor that may make this fizzle, besides the overwhelming volume, is that nobody is going to be surprised by any of it. Are any of you at all surprised that rich and influential people of the world are also sleazy, rotten, tax cheats?

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    “Panama papers”? It sounds like something you’d use to roll a cigarette.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    * A key member of Fifa’s powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be spearheading reform at world football’s scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and corruption.

    This one is not like the other ones. Some people seem to have trouble accepting the idea that accused persons are entitled to legal representation, and that providing legal representation for accused person, even if they are indeed scumbags, is entirely legal and ethical.

  3. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    And in the comments of the article bittys links (a very depressing, but sadly convincing article), there’s a link to Greenwald’s take on this:
    https://theintercept.com/2016/04/04/a-key-similarity-between-snowden-leak-and-panamapapers-scandal-is-whats-been-legalized/
    The most important part, I think:

    Proving that certain behavior is “legal” does not prove that it is ethical or just. That’s because corrupted political systems, by definition, often protect and legalize exactly the behavior that is most unjust. Vital journalism does not only expose law-breaking. It also highlights how corrupted political and legal systems can be co-opted by the most powerful in order to legally sanction atrocious and destructive behavior that serves their interests, typically with little or no public awareness that it’s been done.

    In such cases, as Jaffer put it, “The deeper scandal is what’s legal, not what’s not.” The key revelation is not the illegality of the specific behavior in question but rather the light shined on how our political systems function and for whose benefit they work. That was true of the Snowden leak, and it’s true of the Panama Papers as well.

    (emphasis mine)

  4. Petteri Sulonen says

    It’ll be interesting to see if many Americans show up on the list. The USA has its very own domestic tax haven in Delaware, so using the shady ones is more about incompetence than greed.

  5. frog says

    What? Wealthy people hide their wealth so as to avoid paying taxes on it? SAY IT AIN’T SO.

    And politicians sometimes funnel the wealth of their nations or districts to friends or businesses that later give large gifts to those politicians? I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF SUCH A THING, SIR.

  6. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Are any of you at all surprised that rich and influential people of the world are also sleazy, rotten, tax cheats?

    No, but it’s nice to have evidence.

  7. unclefrogy says

    while this behavior has been an open secret for like always those involved in it always like to do it in private for a reason. Everyone knows that Putin is a crook and despot but he likes to project his own image carefully controlled and not always well executed as it is. Now there is exposed what they wanted kept hidden. They ability to deny any of it is removed even the smallest bit of doubt is erased with data> The only way that things can be kept secret is to be by word of mouth with nothing written down. No one is going to trust these kinds of transactions to voice and a hand shake alone there are going to be records. As has been proven time and again there are no records that can stay hidden from determined hackers, neither my credit-card records nor the 1% hidden wealths.
    One more thing that will come out of this leak is it will be a very strong influence of security and encryption no one with power will seriously push for back-doors though they may make public shows of demanding better tools for their security services there wont be much arm twisting
    uncle frogy

  8. Nick Gotts says

    bittys@3,

    Maybe someone will now leak the documents from the corporate western media!

  9. says

    It might not be surprising, but it’s useful in understanding the scope of the problem and the revealing the mechanisms employed to shuffle all this dark money around the world. It’s also going to capture a number of scalps — more from cover-ups than outright illegal behavior. Already several prominent Icelandic politicians appear to have “failed to disclose” all the financial interests they were supposed to.

    This is kind of like the announcement that we found evidence of liquid water on Mars a few years ago. Nobody was particularly surprised by the news, but as a milestone, the discovery of actual evidence was very important, as was all the data used to come up with the findings.

    And even if the initial announcement fizzles, the journalists and researchers are going to keep digging, and the more we understand how these things work, the better our chances of doing something about it (not that they are very high to start with).

  10. marcoli says

    Bernie Sanders will have a lot to say about these developments. I know we should not have heroes, but for the ‘mo he is looking pretty golden to me.

  11. kevinalexander says

    Certainly people cheating on food stamps is a much bigger problem. But seriously, what is it about human nature that we are disgusted by small parasites but we worship giant ones?

  12. says

    I’m sure there will be at least a couple of deaths from this. Someone will kill themselves out of embarrassment or from what other secrets this reveal leads to being revealed. Someone else will be killed by their partners in crime(whether their behaviour is actually criminal or not) because they’ve been taking too bit of a cut of the pie, or because they might revel others involved if they talk.

  13. ck, the Irate Lump says

    kevinalexander wrote:

    But seriously, what is it about human nature that we are disgusted by small parasites…

    I can’t say I’m at all comfortable with calling welfare recipients “parasites” even with the “small” qualifier.

  14. unclefrogy says

    I think “small parasites” was intended to refer to how ‘welfare cheats” are characterized by conservatives and not welfare recipients on general.

    you can’t really tell how many roaches are in the kitchen unless you turn on all the lights, open all the cupboards and move the refrigerator.

    uncle frogy

  15. says

    And two big cautions:

    (1) The provenance of this is dicey at best. Yes, it’s probable that it’s authentic… but there will be repeated, and legitimate, questioning of authenticity until that’s made satisfactory. That is, in fact, defense counsel’s job (as noted above regarding Mr Damiani’s “presence” among the documents).

    (2) Even if the mass of documents is authentic, there are as yet no indications that:
    (a) Every single one of the documents is authentic,
    (b) The documents are complete and finalized, and not drafts/hypothetical calculations,
    (c) Anything in this stack is admissible evidence or could lead to admissible evidence, or
    (d) That most of the behavior “described” so far actually breaks the law. (Whether it “should” be illegal is a separate, forward-looking question, and varies immensely from nation to nation and even within nations.)

    With those two caveats in mind, the best thing to do is to let appropriate tax authorities have the first crack at it, without any expectation of criminal proceedings. Trust me on this: The rules of evidence in virtually every jurisdiction will allow tax authorities to at least force the relevant taxpayers to cough up more documents in response to audits and/or more serious proceedings, but I strongly suspect that the statute of limitations on fraud (etc.) from the criminal side has run for most of this trove without a tax-based hook to extend the statute of limitations. In many nations, the statute of limitations on fraud is only one year!

  16. robro says

    One of the interesting sidebars on this story is the UK connection. Many of the tax havens named in the documents are connected to the UK in one way or another. Of course, Panama, also part of the scheme, is practically a US subsidiary. Special kudos to PM Cameron’s dad for knowing where to get a good deal.

    Also interesting to note is that Khalifa bin Zayed (Emir of Abu Dhabi, Pres. of UAE, namesake of the world’s tallest building, and one of the richer people in the world) shows up on the list of names. Why in the world would he need to avoid taxes? He basically owns Abu Dhabi. He is the tax man. Likewise, one of the emirs of Qatar, the old one or the relatively new one, is on the list.

  17. zetopan says

    “Why in the world would he need to avoid taxes? He basically owns Abu Dhabi.”

    You apparently don’t understand the psychology of the ultra-greedy. Remember Nelson Bunker Hunt stating “a Billion isn’t enough” after he and his brother were caught trying to corner the silver market? At the time he was already more than a billionaire. Of course Bunker was also a member of the John Birch Society, something in common with a lot of Tea Partiers.

  18. says

    “a Billion isn’t enough”

    Not a single person in the world needs a billion dollars for themselves. I do not understand why someone should want to have that much money. B(M)illionares want money for money’s sake.

  19. methuseus says

    @Lynna, OM #22

    I am literally shaking with rage after watching that bit from the Maddow show. Once these terabytes of info have been gone through it seems we will find plenty of Americans and possibly even more world leaders than they have already leaked. It seems nowhere is safe from corruption on such a high level. I would have thought Iceland’s PM would not have been involved in something like that. I guess that shows me that I really can’t trust much of anyone with more than a million in the bank.

  20. Petteri Sulonen says

    “Khalifa bin Zayed”

    Insurance. Invasions and revolutions happen, and if you have to GTFO it’s handy to have a billion or two salted away in a safe place.

  21. says

    I do not understand why someone should want to have that much money. B(M)illionares want money for money’s sake.

    Seems to me like it’s a variant of the collector’s drive. Whether it’s stamps, Yu-Gi-Oh! cards or money, it’s easy to focus more on what you’re lacking than what you already have. The high you get from adding to your collection is fleeting and the pain of what’s missing only grows as your collection does. Having a collection that’s 99% complete is horrible, because all you can see is that last 1% that’s missing.

    Of course, when it comes to money, the only way to “complete the collection” is to own literally everything.

  22. says

    I think the important thing about the “Panama Papers” is not so much that they bring to light things which are illegal, but rather that they bring to light a lot of things which are actually legal, and raise questions about why this should be the case. If we’re really lucky, we’ll get a public discussion which centres around issues of legality and morality, the differences between the two, and what we can do in order to make these things a bit more congruent.

    Here in Australia (where we’re getting a lot of news full of what our local media considers to be the “important bits” – namely the bits which have Australians mentioned in them[1]) we’re getting things like a trades-person from my home city having contacted the firm to see about setting up a shell company in the British Virgin Islands – which isn’t illegal, provided they also remembered to disclose this to the Australian Taxation Office. The Australian investigators appear to have been rather generously sharing their information with the ATO, so there’s a lot of cheerful cross-referencing going on there between current ongoing investigations – I suspect some people are going to find themselves audited a lot harder than they expected come tax time.

    Given the Australian government is currently having a lot of very public discussion about taxes, spending, budget deficits and what can be done with the former two do make a dent in the latter (current government policy is to cut spending to the bone; try to find some way of avoiding raising taxes, or at the very least to pass the bad publicity for raising the taxes on to the states rather than the federal government; and if possible find the money for a company tax cut “to make things more attractive to business”). Whenever people raise things like cutting negative gearing (tax breaks on property investment), removing capital gains tax discounts , removing high income tax breaks on superannuation, and so on, various members of parliament go a bit pale (particularly the government MPs, the vast majority of whom are pretty well off, thanks very much) and immediately start thinking of reasons to take these things off the table. Neither of our major political parties wants to be the one to raise taxes – particularly on the rich – and the big thing about the Panama papers here is that they’ve the potential to be a very effective fire to the government’s collective feet (when they haul them out of their collective mouth) on the whole issue of tax avoidance and tax evasion on the part of the rich in this country.

    [1] Sample fake news report to give an idea of the style of thing: “Large earthquake in Darkest Peru – 1 Australian and 573 Peruvians killed”.

  23. applehead says

    #23,

    all onepercenters play a game. Who amasses the largest concentration of useless wealth by the time of his death, wins.

    A bunch of sureally greedy parasites, the whole lot.

  24. numerobis says

    robro@20: The effect of shell companies is secrecy, so you can use them for various purposes: tax avoidance is one, circumventing local laws (e.g. sharia, which is pretty tough on corporations) is another, circumventing international laws (sanctions) is yet another.

  25. kevinalexander says

    unclefrogy @18
    Thanks for the clarification. I usually avoid evopsych topics on this site but here is an example of a human trait that you can’t really explain any other way.
    There’s more than just greed at work in the conservative mind, there’s also sadism. The very rich seem to get almost as much pleasure from the suffering of the poor as they get from their money. I grew up RC and they have made a sacrament out of it.

  26. unclefrogy says

    Ah yes there is that
    they even make saints of those who are really good at it (not the poor how ever)
    uncle frogy

  27. says

    And, although of course this is so unsurprising that perhaps it does not need to be said, turns out Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both supported this, while Bernie Sanders was against it.

    Seriously, how many times can Hillary Clinton be proved to have made the wrong decision on major issues before people start realizing that she either has the worst judgement in the world or is malevolent? I think we need to make “clinton” a verb:

    clinton (v.t.): to walk back or deny a wrong position you took despite evidence or experience, after it has resulted in disaster.

  28. chigau (違う) says

    CaitieCat #33
    I am puzzled by your belief that this will stop after The Election.

  29. says

    @#33, #34 (CaitieCat, Harridan of Social Justice and chigau (違う))

    Nothing would make me happier than to stop complaining about Hillary Clinton, because that would mean she has ceased to play any significant role in government and retired to count her millions. (All one hundred of them, which were acquired in less than ten years, because that’s totally something you can do ethically without any sort of corruption.) I don’t constantly complain about Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, you may notice. That’s because although I have no doubt Cheney is still pulling strings, he is now well in the background, and no longer has any position in the official government whatsoever.

    As long as Hillary Clinton is still relevant, her mistakes — particularly when they blow up in spectacular fashion in the news — are worth pointing out. If you don’t like being reminded that the bad policies pushed by neoliberal politicians have real-world consequences, then I suggest you go and read the movie threads instead, and talk about fantasy worlds.

  30. chigau (違う) says

    so Caitie
    Are you planting any flowers this year?
    It’s been so warm, I’m thinking of putting some seeds in pots this weekend.

  31. leftwingfox says

    @2: Reginald Selkirk

    This one is not like the other ones. Some people seem to have trouble accepting the idea that accused persons are entitled to legal representation, and that providing legal representation for accused person, even if they are indeed scumbags, is entirely legal and ethical.

    Sure they’re entitled to council, but those lawyers should recuse themselves from later investigating their clients for the issues they defended them on: confidentiality issues are too much of a conflict of interest.

  32. mostlymarvelous says

    Meg

    Here in Australia (where we’re getting a lot of news full of what our local media considers to be the “important bits” – namely the bits which have Australians mentioned in them …

    Seeing as this leak concentrates on Panama and the British Virgin Islands everyone here is umming and aahing and carefully, oh so precisely, _not_ talking about our beloved Prime Minister whose cash is stashed elsewhere. The Cayman Islands to be precise.

    Of course that’s more about the shenanigans associated with being a bankster rather than any political fraudstering, but it’s still a pretty big deal. A couple of hundred million if my memory serves me well.