The Panama Papers
If you haven’t heard about the Panama Papers yet, I promise you will soon. Marked as one of the largest leaks in history, the hack of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca claimed 2.6 terabytes of data containing over 11.5 million documents. However, this is not just another hack story designed to highlight the horrors of improperly secured technology, nor is it a plot to warn you about the safety of your credit card information online. While both of those are still very real, the information leaked in the “Panama Papers” highlights the offshore holdings of prominent figures from around the world including, but not limited to, acting and former politicians, prominent businessmen, as well as cherished celebrities. These offshore holdings were used for a variety of purposes, ranging from tax evasion to illicit business transactions.
First obtained by German media outlet, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the papers, which would eventually gain traction as the “Panama Papers,” were subject to a year-long investigation that included over 100 reporting partners and was led by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Their findings were substantial to say the least, and have started ripples that are unlikely to calm anytime soon. It is important to note, there are legitimate reasons for setting up an offshore company and its existence is not necessarily indicative of illicit behaviour.
Outlined in this article are some of the major names implicated in the Panama Papers, the details of their leaks, and the latest updates. A more comprehensive list of the power players can be from the ICIJ here.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Prime Minister of Iceland
Thus far, the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, has faced the most consequences as a result of the Panama Papers. Gunnlaugsson, along with his wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir, owned a British Virgin Island company called Wintris Inc. Held within Wintris were $4 million in bonds from three major Icelandic banks. Gunnlaugsson did not declare his stakes or position at Wintris Ic. when he entered office in 2009 and it wouldn’t be until after that this information would come out, as he sold his 50% share of wintress to Pálsdóttir on the December 31, 2009 for $1
The scandal caused an uproar in Iceland, as a crowd fluctuating between 9,000 and 23,000 protested outside of parliament. Throwing eggs and bananas, the protesters, along with parliament’s opposition, demanded a concise solution: the resignation of the Prime Minister. Their call was quickly answered as Gunnlaugsson stepped down Tuesday, just days after the leak. Only time will tell if more consequences lay ahead for the now former Icelandic Prime Minister.
Watch Gunnlaugsson walk out of an interview after being posed questions about Wintris Inc.:
Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia
Was anyone surprised that King Salman has shell corporations in the British Virgin Islands? Me neither. King Salman is connected to numerous companies that he used for mortgages on luxury homes, totalling up to around $34 Million. Additionally, King Salman’s companies were used for a yacht in which he was the “principal user.”
King Salman has not replied to requests for comment and more details have not come through as fast as others implicated in the papers. This could be partially due to his coinciding meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi, though one source blames Western media for ignoring the behaviors of their U.S. ally.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of United Arab Emirates
Considered one of the world’s wealthiest men, President Al Nahyan listed in the Panama Papers, using his 30+ shell companies to buy luxury real estate and other properties. The president is no stranger to spending his vast wealth on big ticket items. Previously, the UAE President built a seven-story mountain-top palace, while pledging $130 million to the nation. He has given gifts for cancer care and cardiovascular medical research to the University of Texas and John Hopkins respectively. In addition, Al Nahyan is the owner of the World’s biggest yacht. When questioned about the leak, the law firm that represents Al Nahyan said they are “unable to help.”
Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina
Son of an Italian born business tycoon, Mauricio Macri’s name listed in the Panama Papers is quite the family affair. Their company, Fleg Trading Ltd., included both Macri’s father and brother and was created in 1998 before being dissolved in 2009. During this time, Macri served as Mayor of Buenos Aires but did not disclose his connection to Fleg. Macri’s reasoning for this is that he served as a director in Fleg Trading, he was not a shareholder, and he denied any capital participation in Fleg Trading Ltd. Naturally, Macri denies wrongdoing, arguing that his offshore society was legal. Argentina’s opposition continues to press Macri about the leaked information and Fleg Trading, as one of his presidential election promises was to fight against corruption.
Ian Cameron, Father of British Prime Minister, David Cameron
The conservative leader and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron has — to borrow a phrase — found himself with egg on his face. Although Prime Minister Cameron’s name was not listed in the Panama Papers, Cameron’s father, Ian Cameron, along with some members of David Cameron’s conservative party, have been leaked. This is cause for particular embarrassment since Prime Minister Cameron has previously spoken out against tax avoidance and tax evasion.
Prime Minister Cameron’s spokesperson noted in a public announcement that family investments are a “private matter.” Watch Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn’s, thoughts on Cameron’s “private” investments:
Friends of Russian President, Vladimir Putin
Many consider these particular names to be the focus on the Panama Papers––including Putin himself who has claims that he is a victim of foreign conspiracy. Though not named directly in the papers, close friends and childhood friends of Putin were named, with a money trail totaling a staggering 2 billion dollars. Included in these deals were investments in pipelines, truck makers, media outlets, personal villas, and other property holdings.
While he wasn’t named in the papers, many believe that Putin was involved with Mossack Fonseca. Many, like the UK Guardian, have been quoted saying, “friends have earned millions from deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage.” On the other hand, the Kremlin has dismissed the Panama Papers as “Putinphobia.” Meanwhile, Russian Media has been mum on the papers and its 2 billion dollar money trail.
Watch the Guardian’s video entitled, How to hide a billion dollars:
Lionel Messi, Professional Athlete
Not to be excluded, the sporting world was also represented in the Panama Papers. Lionel Messi was by far the biggest name on the list, though not the only as he was joined by fellow soccer players Leonardo Ullo and Gabriel Heinze. The Messi family, already dealing with tax charges in Spain, have denied involvement in creating a “tax fraud network.” Spain officials have already begun investigating, while Messi is planning to sue the Spanish newspaper, El Confidencial, for defamation.
Jackie Chan, Actor
Long time action star and multi-talented superstar Jackie Chan was also listed in the report, having at least six companies through Mossack Fonseca. While Chan might have these companies, unlike the others there is no evidence that he used any of them for illicit or improper purposes.
Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood Stars
Even Bollywood has its hands dirty as film giants Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter-in-law, Aishwarya Rai, were listed in the Panama Papers. Amitabh was found to hold more than four shipping companies from 1993 and Rai owning a firm called Amic Partners Limited from 2003 to 2008.
Aishwarya Rai’s agent responded to the claims, calling them, “totally false and untrue.” Amitabh has, however, remained silent––unusual, as he normally has a very active social media presence. However, this could be linked to the additional swirling news that Amitabh could be nominated as the next President of India by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Modi has since called for a probe into the papers that include the movie stars as well as numerous other Indians that were listed. Whether good news remains for Amitabh during this troubling time remains to be seen.
Take a peek into India Express’ eight month investigation into the Panama Papers:
Syria & North Korea
Syria and North Korea’s connection to the Panama Paper’s have been used as a shining example of the illicit activities that can be accomplished with Mossack Fonseca’s shell corporations.
The Syrian government, under the direction of President al-Assad, faced sanctions as he tried to run his repressive war machine in Syria. In addition, President al-Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf was also blacklisted for intimidation and corruption. This, however, did not stop Mossak Fonseca from doing business with the two, even after the beginning of the war when the Syrian army used lethal force against unarmed civilians. During this time, Mossak Fonseca set up 6 companies for Makhlouf, allowing them to circumvent sanctions and continue to conduct business, like buying the fuel for the planes whose bombs killed scores of civilians. Ties were not cut with Makhlouf until late 2011, nearly 6 months after the beginning of the Syrian uprising, despite being warned by their own compliance officers to end dealings at the beginning of 2011.
Continuing, the leak has shown Mossack Fonseca’s dealings with the North Korean government and potentially helping them with their nuclear weapons program. Sanctions were placed on doing business with North Korea by the UN, but the leak is said to show dealings years after the imposed sanctions.
This video speaks more on the evaded sanctions:
The Panama Papers will be a story to follow closely as it unravels. Panels are already starting to be formed, like the one created by the Panamanian government to begin increasing the transparency of their financial industry. Others have chosen the opposite approach as china has upped censorship to keep the Panama Papers out. Finally, while we haven’t heard much of the West’s involvement with Mossack Fonseca– partially due to a lack of notoriety– names of Americans and Canadians alike are continuing to service as we learn more, learn more here. One piece we know for from our dig into the Panama Papers thus far is that, while me might not get to see all the documents, there is much more information within that 2.6 terabytes to come.
About Ryan Jeethan
Ryan is a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Arts & Business program focusing on UW’s unique Speech Communication program.