New Delhi: A massive data leak of files from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca has blown the lid off tax evasion and secret offshore dealings of powerful people across the globe. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and over 100 news outlets in 80 countries collaborated with German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung to expose how the world’s ultra rich manage to hide their assets.
The list includes several world leaders and prominent personalities from the film and business world across the globe.
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money has said that it will investigate the 500 Indian names that feature on the list. The government has also said it will probe the matter.
Here are things you should know about the Panama files:
1- Touted as the biggest expose in terms of data, the Panama files leak is reportedly an extensive probe into the offshore financial dealings of prominent people from across the globe. It reveals the myriad ways in which the rich and famous exploits tax regimes. In India, The Indian Express, which was a participant in the probe, carried a detailed account of the revelations.
2- The source of leak was the internal database of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonesca. It comprises of as many as 11.5 million documents and 2.6 terabytes of information. It includes emails, financial spreadsheets, passports and corporate records detailing how powerful figures used banks, law firms and offshore shell companies to hide their assets. The data dated from 1977 through the end of 2015. It is even bigger than the US diplomatic cables that were released by WikiLeaks in 2010. Also, it dwarfs the secret intelligence documents of 2013.
3- The confidential documents were made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which is a non-profit organisation based in Washington. It said that the documents contain details of both current and former world leaders along with that of businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sportsmen.
4- Businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars — the ICIJ said the documents involve 214,488 companies and 14,153 clients of Mossack Fonseca. The nonprofit group said it would release the full list of companies and people linked to them early next month.
5- Ramon Fonseca, a co-founder of Mossack Fonseca — one of the world's largest creators of shell companies — confirmed to Panama's Channel 2 television network that documents investigated by the ICIJ were authentic and had been obtained illegally by hackers.
6- Mossack Fonesca is the world’s fourth largest provider of offshore services having been acted for over 3 lakh companies. The firm’s website says that it has a global network of 600 people working in 42 countries. The services offered by the firms include incorporating companies in offshore jurisdictions and wealth management. Having franchises around the world, Mossack Fonesca operates in tax havens including Switzerland, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands.
7- The Munich-based German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it was offered the data more than a year ago through an encrypted channel by an anonymous source. The source sought unspecified security measures but no compensation, said Bastian Obermayer, a reporter for the paper.
8- The newspaper and its partners verified the authenticity of the data by comparing it to public registers, witness testimony and court rulings. A previous cache of Mossack Fonseca documents obtained by German authorities was also used to verify the new material.
9- The Guardian newspaper, which participated in the investigation, published a video on its website late Sunday of an interview with Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. During the interview with Sweden's SVT television, the prime minister is asked about a company called Wintris. He responds by insisting that its affairs are above board and calling the question "completely inappropriate," before breaking off the interview.
10- The ICIJ's website says that banks including HSBC, UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank have worked with Mossack Fonseca to create offshore accounts. "The allegations are historical, in some cases dating back 20 years, predating our significant, well-publicized reforms implemented over the last few years," HSBC spokesman Rob Sherman said in an email.