The Panama Papers are a series of 11.5 million documents that allegedly detail how dozens of world leaders, politicians and mafia members have committed tax evasion and money laundering for the past 40 years.
The papers belonged to Mossack Fonseca, a law firm in Panama that specializes in creating offshore companies and selling them to interested parties.
In business since 1977, the firm has helped facilitate well over 200,000 offshore companies.
Over the course of a few months, files depicting their business dealings were leaked to the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ).
The newspaper has cooperated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for the past year to analyze the 2.6 terabytes of data they obtained from their anonymous source. To do so, SZ and ICIJ have used powerful search algorithims to dig through the documents, looking for celebrities, athletes, world leaders and politicians who are tied to dealings with Mossack Fonseca.
However, many of the clients who dealt with the firm kept their names anonymous or used a proxy name.
Through the investigation and the home and office searches of roughly 100 people, SZ and the ICIJ started connecting more names to the companies that did business with Mossack Fonseca.
Dozens of international figures have been accused of involvement with this law firm, such as the King of Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minster of Iceland, the family of Pakistan’s Prime Minster and the inner circle of Russia’s President.
The Panama Papers also exposed over 400 American scammers and tax evaders, though none are high-profile politicians.
The people accused are outraged and the Russian government refuses to entertain the claims, instead saying that it’s Western propaganda intended to spark “Putinophobia.”
Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned due to intense public scrutiny following the release of the documents. Despite his resignation, Gunnlaugsson maintains his innocence and said he feels “betrayed and disappointed.”
Mossack Fonseca released their own statement about the recent media coverage, saying that they “follow both the letter and spirit of the law [and] have not once in nearly 40 years of operation been charged with criminal wrongdoing.”
The firm said that the only crime here is that someone hacked them and stole their data.
Though shell companies are a safe haven for those looking to evade taxes or launder money, owning an offshore company is completely legal. So long as it isn’t used for illegal activities, there are numerous and legitimate reasons a person or company may want to open an offshore shell company.
Despite this, the Panama Papers are showing difficult to disprove for the accused politicians and leaders who are allegedly putting away billions of dollars illegally.
The 11.5 million documents have yet to be combed through and also haven’t been released in full to the public, but the consortium of journalists involved plan to continue analyzing the vast amount of data to uncover as much corruption as possible.