In yet another example in which the public of the world is made fun of, a consortium of journalists across the world have exposed big holes in the moral fabric of several world leaders, actors and other renowned personalities.
The Panama Papers are a giant leak – 11.5m files from the offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, a specialist in wealth management and offshore investments. The company is well networked with employees all over the world (600 in 42 countries). It also has franchisees who help boost sales. The company has offices in other tax havens as well, predominant among them The British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Seychelles and of course Panama. The company did business with intermediaries rather than with business owners. Russia and China topped the list of business’ Mossack Fonseca was doing business with.
The 2.6 terrabytes of information revealed that Mossack Fonseca was managing for more than 300,000 companies. While it is not illegal to invest in offshore investment companies, everything was not up to speed.
Panama is a tax haven which Investopedia defines as:
A tax haven is a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically stable environment. Tax havens also provide little or no financial information to foreign tax authorities. Individuals and businesses that do not reside a tax haven can take advantage of these countries’ tax regimes to avoid paying taxes in their home countries. Tax havens do not require that an individual reside in or a business operate out of that country in order to benefit from its tax policies.
Immediately it becomes clear that those who would like to evade taxes or hide their ill-gotten gains would prefer tax havens to their own home countries where questions would be raised.
The United States entered into a bi-lateral trade agreement with Panama to boost trade and commerce. Unfortunately, it led to several shell companies being formed and the U.S lost revenue in taxes that was due to them. A vehement opponent to this agreement was Senator Bernie Sanders. His fears were clearly well-founded in the light of the Panama Paper leaks. In a statement regarding the leak his press statement noted:
We now know, as a result of the ‘Panama Papers’ released by an international consortium of investigative journalists, that more than 214,000 entities throughout the world have been using a law firm in Panama to avoid paying taxes.
At a time of massive income and wealth inequality in the United States and around the world, the wealthiest people and largest corporations must start paying their fair share of taxes. Children should not go hungry while billionaires use offshore tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
The Panama Free Trade Agreement put a stamp of approval on Panama, a world leader when it comes to allowing the wealthy and the powerful to avoid taxes.
I was opposed to the Panama Free Trade Agreement from day one. I predicted that the passage of this disastrous trade deal would make it easier, not harder, for the wealthy and large corporations to evade taxes by sheltering billions of dollars offshore. I wish I had been proven wrong about this, but it has now come to light that the extent of Panama’s tax avoidance scams is even worse than I had feared.
Companies like Mossack Fonseca sell privacy and secrecy for a very high price to political leaders like Putin , the prince of Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Shariff; They offer these services to anyone who can pay the price including drug traffickers, human traffickers, fraudsters and terrorists even. They enable money laundering and cover the tracks used by traffickers and terrorists that Governments spends millions on tracking.
The Panama Papers are unlocking the financial paths several individuals and corporates have been using to cover their tracks and undertake in illegal business practices. They have also exposed the double speak of several world leaders. Featured in the list are the relatives of Chinese premier Xi Jinping, an avowed opposer of corruption and David Cameron who spoke vociferously against tax havens.
The ICIJ, the mover behind the Panama papers details the span of the papers.
The leaked data covers nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015. It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world — providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues.
Most of the services the offshore industry provides are legal if used by the law abiding. But the documents show that banks, law firms and other offshore players have often failed to follow legal requirements that they make sure their clients are not involved in criminal enterprises, tax dodging or political corruption. In some instances, the files show, offshore middlemen have protected themselves and their clients by concealing suspect transactions or manipulating official records.
It further highlights the role of major banks in this shadow, parallel system of banking.
The documents make it clear that major banks are big drivers behind the creation of hard-to-trace companies in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other offshore havens. The files list nearly 15,600 paper companies that banks set up for clients who want to keep their finances under wraps, including thousands created by international giants UBS and HSBC.
The records reveal a pattern of covert maneuvers by banks, companies and people tied to Russian leader Putin. The records show offshore companies linked to this network moving money in transactions as large as $200 million at a time. Putin associates disguised payments, backdated documents and gained hidden influence within the country’s media and automotive industries, the leaked files show.
To better understand how shadow banking employed by Mossack Fonseca and how it impacts common citizens the world everywhere take a look at his video by ICIJ titled The Panama Papers: Victims of Offshore
Come 9th May, ICIJ intends to reveal a searchable database with information on more than 200,000 offshore entities. It links people across 200 territories. Users can access the searchable database and see for themselves the multitude of networks that were in play, including records of true owners. The database will further include 100,000 additional entities that were a part of the investigation by ICIJ.