The Panama Papers have sent out an earthquake under the political and business world with reports on corruption, money laundering and other fraudulent activities by leading global politicians, corporations and business people unmasked.
In what it called the “biggest leak of inside information in history”, a group of over 100 global newspapers, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, has exposed tomes of confidential documents from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian corporate service provider that makes available detailed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies.
Mossack Fonseca has been working with known financial groups like UBS, HSBC and many others to help elites from the Communist Party hierarchy of China, to Lionel Messi, and many global financiers conceal cash in offshore havens around the world.
Among many shocking revelations according to ICIJ, are the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials around the world, including 12 current and former world leaders. Among them: the prime ministers of Pakistan and Iceland, President of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia. About 29 billionaires listed on Forbes magazine’s ranking of the world’s richest 500 people were also part of those fingered.
Countries including Iceland, the UK, United States, Russia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Ukraine, Brazil, Chile and Argentina are abuzz with squawks of protests and demands for accountability from suspected public office holders.
About 10 000 people demonstrated in Iceland after leaked documents showed that Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson hid assets in an offshore company that he concealed while serving in the country’s parliament.
Ukrainian lawmakers are pushing for investigation after the documents exposed that President Petro Poroshenko moved his assets to an offshore account to avoid paying taxes.
Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina has also been identified to have served as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas.
Even David Cameron is reported to be under fire for having his late father, Ian Cameron and other prominent members of the conservative party fingered to be clients of Mossack Fonseca.
While reverberations of the leaked documents are sparking off spasms of protests and petitions around the world, some notorious regimes are working hard to suffocate dissenting voices and all forms of opposition.
The documents equally reveal that confirmed friends and associates of President Vladimir Putin of Russia channeled $2 billion through Panama. A family member of President Xi Jinping of China purportedly has a Panama connection, as do the Saudi King and the son of Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak.
Kremlin expectedly dismissed the ICIJ report as an attack aimed primarily at Vladimir Putin while China State media denounced it as a Western agenda or bias against non-Western leaders.
However, this does not suggest that corruption is confined to lands where tyrannical and repressive regimes exist. Exploitation, fraud and destructive tax avoidance are rife throughout the world. And the perpetrators do not just damage the global tax system but global governance itself.
In 2012, Tax Justice Network estimated that some $21 trillion to $32 trillion was stashed away by the super-rich in offshore entities. Another report by Global Financial Integrity recently discovered that developing economies lost $7.8 trillion in cash because of maneuvers like those apparently committed by Mossack Fonseca, between 2004 and 2013.
Beyond tax avoidance and tax evasion, Mossack Fonseca’s clientele evidently include dozens of individuals and companies who are allegedly involved in organized crime or have close contacts with terrorist organizations. In other words, a devious Mossack Fonseca has been abetting all forms of criminality and depravity from money laundering to the terrorism bedeviling our world. To make matters worse, a professional and corporate scourge like Mossack Fonseca works closely with global banks.
According to reports, more than 500 banks, their subsidiaries and branches registered almost 15 600 shell companies with Mossack Fonseca. British banking giant HSBC and its subsidiaries alone account for more than 2 300 of the companies and UBS accounts for more than 1 100. Other mega banks include Royal Bank of Canada and Credit Suisse.
To further prove that organized criminals and ruthless political leaders have been working very closely with acclaimed banks, the structures UBS created through Mossack Fonseca ranged from offshore companies controlled by Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, to companies controlled by Roberto Videira Brandão, convicted of fraud in the collapse of a Brazilian bank; and Marco Tulio Henriquez, a Venezuelan banker and fugitive charged by the US department of justice with money-laundering for drug cartels.
Until Western powers and intelligence agencies treat this as an existential threat against humanity and begin dealing with it with the same concentration that they have demonstrated against terrorist safe havens, public and private corruption will remain best bedfellows with terrorism and other forms of organized crime.