Panama Papers

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Panama Papers

Panama Papers, popular name for the some 11.5 million internal documents belonging to the Panamanian-based law firm Mossack Fonseca that revealed information about secret offshore companies and bank accounts that had been established by wealthy individuals and politicians to hide illegal business dealings or to avoid taxes or sanctions. The documents, which was released in an unauthorized disclosure (2015) by an anonymous source, includes material dating back to 1977, when the firm was founded. The countries of origin of the owners of the offshore companies include China and Hong Kong, Russia, Great Britain, Switzerland, Argentina, Brazil, and many other nations, including the United States. The offshore companies were registered predominantly in the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the Bahamas, the Seychelles, Niue, and Samoa.

The leaked information was given to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, and it and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists analyzed the data. Close to 400 journalists from over 100 news organizatons in 76 countries worked for a year on the project. The documents revealed information about offshore investments associated with more the 140 politicians or their families, including national leaders in Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Iraq, Iceland, and Britain and prominent officials in China; Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson of Iceland (2016) and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan (2017) both lost power as a result of the revelations. Mossack Fonseca denied any wrongdoing in its handling of the investments, and asserted that all the dealings in offshore companies were legal. Subsequently, however, its headquarters in Panama City was raided in a search for evidence of money laundering and other illegal activities. Mossack Fonseca, which had officers and affiliates in other countries that had been accused of money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion, announced the closure of the firm, due to loss of business and damage to its reputation, in 2018.

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