The Panama Papers

Faire Sans Dire has been involved in anti-corruption activities in Panama since 1983 when Manuel Noriega became Panama’s dictator. We were particularly involved in some of the more newsworthy events pertaining to Panama including the Iran-Contra scandal and the Oliver North fiasco but mainly from a European perspective. In any event, we are therefore interested in the Panama Papers not just from the viewpoint of who has been named and shamed by their release. As explained later, their ramifications will be like those of a long lasting tsunami for many accountancy and law firms even if they have never breached any laws in any jurisdictions.

Almost everything you need to know about what is in the public domain to date concerning the Panama Papers can be found at these links to Wikipedia and The Institute of Investigative Journalism. Up to date details of those named and shamed in the Panama Papers analysed by country can also be found at these other links to Wikipedia and The Institute of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ). Of course, not everyone named is necessarily a tax evader, criminal or reprobate.

Recent news emanating from the Panama Papers released in July 2016 shows that “Mossack Fonseca’s files reveal offshore companies that were established to own, hold or do business with petroleum, natural gas and mining operations in 44 of Africa’s 54 countries. Many of them are controlled by politicians, their family members and business associates.” At the time that news was released the ICIJ discovered that 37 companies had already been named in court actions or investigations involving natural resources in Africa.

The mainstay of the Panama Papers was published by the ICIJ at 2.00pm EDT on 9th May 2016 as a selective searchable database at this link. It contains data on many of those millions of people involved in a few hundred thousand plus offshore entities including trusts, companies, foundations and funds incorporated in over 20 “tax havens” (as well as places in the USA and Europe) linked to people in over 200 countries and territories. It also includes information about circa 100,000 entities that was uncovered in the 2013 ICIJ Offshore Leaks and 175,000 Bahamian companies registered between 1990 and 2016, details of which were added in September 2016.

You will be able to search through the hundreds of thousands of names disclosed in the Panama Papers and the ICIJ Offshore Leaks databases and quickly check out individuals or businesses that matter to you: just search the database. In depth checks will also show you who is linked to whom. If you need any help searching the database (or more importantly outside of it) please contact Faire Sans Dire. One important point to note is that behind every name there may be an army of associates whether they be family, co-directors, partners, employees or co-shareholders etc. Put another way, once a name (or address) has been extracted from the database that is but the easy part of a potentially major piece of international due diligence.

The consequences of these revelations may not be known for years to come but they will justifiably devastate the lives of many involved in criminal activities such as money laundering and tax evasion or those who simply wanted to hide their assets either during the course of divorce proceedings or for other questionable purposes. Lawyers may have to check past disclosures for their plaintiffs, defendants and other clients going back many years. Accountants may have to reissue the accounts of listed companies or urgently contact tax authorities to start plea bargaining.

As for future vetting of individuals and corporates the tsunami will have an impact for years to come. First, it is of note that many past background checks on individuals, entities and even properties may have to be revisited. Second, background checks in the future can’t simply draw the line at those named in the Panama Papers. That would be foolhardy indeed when it is obvious that most “named” officers or entities will be involved with many others who aren’t named.

In addition to the information available from the Panama Papers, details of offshore companies and their holdings of real estate in England and Wales can be found at this link or in this news article published last year on this website. More information relating to future exposures of who really owns what will be released by Faire Sans Dire in the future as and when appropriate along with any pertinent allegations of unlawful activities relating to the non-disclosure of beneficial ownership.

If you want to look up who owns what, this database, known as the “ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database” may be helpful but from 9th May 2016 it was absorbed into the Panama Papers database. Furthermore, new disclosures about opulent people hiding in the shadows in Switzerland may be forthcoming from past revelations relating to HSBC Swiss clients and more data relating to Kleinwort Benson clients cowering in the Channel Islands referred to in this link may appear in the public domain soon.

Since the release of the Panama Papers much has happened. Of particular interest is that many countries (including the USA) are tightening their laws to prevent shell companies and other similar “vehicles” from operating anonymously. In addition, there has been much speculation about who leaked the Panama Papers from within Mossack Fonseca to Bastian Obermayer, an investigative journalist at Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper. Indeed, why that newspaper was chosen remains a mystery. In many ways it appears to have been an intentional obfuscation by “John Doe”, the pseudonym for the person(s) who purportedly stole and then passed on the data.

We think much of this will become less nebulous as more leaks occur over the coming months and years. The source of the Panama Papers is far from being merely a bit of tittle tattle for the global media as we understand there will be many more similar leaks of equally large tranches of data such that the veil of secrecy covering most of the globe’s hidden wealth is lifted once and for all. Whether or not the Panama Papers were accessed internally or hacked using known vulnerabilities and flaws in Mossack Fonseca’s systems remains a matter of debate.

While these planned “Robin Hood” style thefts may be organised by those who orchestrated the Mossack Fonseca outage those who physically extracted the data may of course have no idea who really manipulated or incentivised them into doing so. However, rest assured “John Doe” did not act alone even though we believe the Mossack Fonseca data extraction was an inside job as opposed to some sort of data hacking from cyberspace despite supposed evidence to the contrary which appears to be disinformation as the dates and timelines mentioned in many articles about all this don’t stack up (yet).

Nevertheless, the precise modus operandi of the extraction is of less importance than who was behind it. No doubt in time we will find out whether those orchestrating these data extractions are a political or even quasi-religious consortium of do-gooders disenchanted with the growing gap twixt the super rich and the rest of us. Alternatively they could be a crowd of avaricious tax inspectors, a clique of intelligence agencies (such as FVEY, the Five Eyes) or even an unprecedented pot pourri of organisations of that ilk.

The data made available from 9th May 2016 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is not a “data dump” of all the data in the Panama Papers. “ICIJ won’t release personal data en masse; the database [does] not include records of bank accounts and financial transactions, emails and other correspondence, passports and telephone numbers. The selected and limited information is being published in the public interest …”

Furthermore, the ICIJ, other media outlets (including the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung which initially received the Panama Papers) and investigators are continuing with their ongoing investigations and will no doubt publish anything of genuine interest to the world at large. The USA is supportive of these initiatives and more besides.

Barack Obama described tax avoidance as a “huge problem” and commented that “a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem. It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed.” Heaven only knows, but these disclosures could even determine whether or not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton occupy the White House from 2017.

Finally, following the London Summit on Anti-corruption hosted by David Cameron (the UK’s Prime Minister) on 12th May 2016 many countries and territories have agreed to share information in various ways. Full details of what was agreed are available from the UK Government’s website and it will be updated in the future to announce any further developments.

The ramifications of those agreements, further releases of data by the ICIJ and/or others and changing attitudes towards tax evasion and corruption will have a profound impact on the way the world goes about its business. There may even come a day when money and morality make the world go round. You don’t just have to have been a reprobate to ruin your reputation in a day: it could be someone connected to or associated with you that lands you in the mire. If you need help dealing with managing any of the risks associated with the expected or unexpected fallout from the Panama Papers please don’t hesitate to contact us for exploratory talks.