At 2.6 terabytes of data, the Panama Papers leak easily represents the largest exposure of private communication ever released.
These seven words from a self-titled “John Doe” have set off a chain reaction the likes of which would make even Edward Snowden or Julian Assange blush. When the source contacted German news outlet Süddeutsche Zeitung a year ago, they had no idea what was being offered.
The documents were encrypted communications from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, a purveyor of anonymous shell companies used by the world’s elite. Within the near 12 million leaked documents are damning indictments of world leaders, corrupt business dealings, and massive ethical conflicts of interest that span all the way from the 1970’s to 2016.
Süddeutsche Zeitung made the decision to partner with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to try and parse all of the information available. According to the news organization itself, “around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents.”
The analysis is far from over, but there are already more examples than there is space in a single story to cover them. The Panama Papers cover dozens of other individuals so far, from Vladimir Putin to Jackie Chan. Aside from involvement in the “crime of the century,” here are just a few of the highlights:
Lionel Messi is an Argentinian footballer suspected of 4.1 million dollars of tax evasion. The Panama Papers have uncovered records of a shell corporation of which Lionel and his father Jorge are the “ultimate beneficiaries.” Revelation of a purported method of Messi’s alleged tax evasion are going to be hard for the defense to counter, despite discrepancy with the dates involved. Until now, the star athlete has restricted himself to pleas of ignorance to the content of documents he signed and attempts to shift blame toward his own father. It’s a complicated case that is only getting more so.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson is Iceland’s Prime Minister. He’s facing numerous calls for his resignation, including a 16,000+ signature petition and the strong recommendation of another former PM. The Panama Papers revealed that he’d hidden millions of dollars worth of investments in offshore holding company Wintris Inc, and then diverted his shares to his wife for one dollar. Gunnlaugsson was elected on a platform of total transparency, so he’s taking more than a little heat after the revelation. Still, both he and his wife deny any wrongdoing, calling the entire case a “witch hunt.” He didn’t respond too well to even the most straightforward inquiries about those activities, however.
Juan Pedro Damiani is a long time member of FIFA’s controversy-riddled ethics committee and head of the J.P Damiani law firm. Alongside several other prominent figures in FIFA, the FBI believes Damiani’s firm to have been a part of the massive bribery schemes that have rocked the sport over the past several years. Three shell companies set up by the firm, all named “Cross Trading,” appear to have played a major part in bribing FIFA officials for marketing rights in the U.S.
Petro Poroshenko, candy magnate and president of the Ukraine, is also facing calls for his removal. And while he insists that he has nothing to do with the management of his assets — a response that’s becoming common among those outed by the leak — Poroshenko’s critics aren’t buying it. While his administration campaigns against the use of offshore companies, even his allies insist that a parliamentary investigation of the matter is required. Even if he’s not impeached, his actions seem to loudly contradict his words, especially in light of Ukraine’s beleaguered economy.
These are just a few of the initial findings in the biggest digital security breach ever recorded. And with more information coming to light seemingly every hour, there are a multitude of strong reactions.
John McAfee, cybersecurity guru and outlier president candidate, believes that the leak should serve as a warning to all of us about the vulnerability of our most closely held secrets. Reddit wants a piece of the action and is rallying users on the hunt for further revelations within the data. Those people calling for the Icelandic Prime Minister’s resignation are now standing on his front porch.
But perhaps the true measure of the Panama Papers isn’t what may have been illegal activity. Maybe instead, we should look a little closer at how much of what’s happened is perfectly lawful, and how so many leaders of the world are willing to victimize their own for the sake of personal gain. Though both the US and UK have publicly refused to support Syrian atrocities in any way, Mossack Fonseca clients in both nations have been indirectly fueling Syria’s air force.
This is far from over. The ICIJ is uncovering new information every day, and while the U.S. has been largely absent from the conversation so far, it’s not going to remain that way for long. Journalist Adam Johnson was among those who brought up our nation’s seeming immunity from the international scandal. But in response, the editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung’s response was ominous at best.
Editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung responded to the lack of U.S. individuals in the documents, saying "Just wait for what is coming next"
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) April 3, 2016
The Panama Papers are a loaded gun pointed squarely at some of the most protected people on the planet. We’ll continue to follow these revelations, and their echoes through the global halls of power. Some of the truths uncovered — perhaps even most of them — will be uncomfortable. As citizens of a nation that exists by and for the people, it’s our duty to evaluate that information, and to hold even our own leadership accountable for their representation of us all.
Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter.