One of the largest investigative projects in history is making waves around the globe this week as politicians struggle to explain their connection to billions found in off-shore accounts.
The bombshell of a story comes from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and details how rich and powerful figures around the world sheltered billions through a Panamanian law firm, robbing developing countries of needed tax money or hiding the spoils of criminal behavior.
“The Panama Papers” project is billed as the “largest cross-border journalism collaboration ever” and involved reporters from more than 100 news organizations poring over 11.5 million bank records stretching back decades. The documents were leaded by an anonymous source and come from the Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca.
They implicate more than 140 world leaders including king of Saudi Arabia, the president of Ukraine, and the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan. The documents also show $2 billion in assets hidden by associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The news of the hidden accounts is already having an effect, with Iceland’s prime minister under particular fire in his country.
The hidden wealth has real effects around the globe. Pakistan, for example, is receiving a $6.6 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, in part for its inability to raise money through domestic taxes. The Panama Papers reveal the companies owned by family members of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are using off-shore tax havens to escape collection.
To get a broader sense of the impact, read these two paragraphs from the ICIJ report:
“(The leaked files) also include at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.
“One of those companies supplied fuel for the aircraft that the Syrian government used to bomb and kill thousands of its own citizens, U.S. authorities have charged.”