The Panama Papers is one of the biggest and largest collaborative investigations in journalism history. For the past year, hundreds of journalists from around the world secretly analyzed terabytes of data uncovered from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm with offices around the world. They collectively published their findings on April 3 as Panama Papers. It’s a project involving several journalists to reveal the dirty secrets of rich and powerful.
This is how it started
Over a year ago, an anonymous source contacted the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and submitted encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, an unknown Panamanian law firm that specializes in creating shell companies around the world. These shell companies helps their owners to hide their business dealings, no matter how dirty they are. These shell companies are held in countries with strict privacy laws. The data provides rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows. It proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and powerful.
Süddeutsche Zeitung partnered with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and over one hundred media partners to parse and report on the leaked data. These have included teams from the Guardian and the BBC in England, Le Monde in France, and La Nación in Argentina. The documents provide a detailed view of how Mossack Fonseca routinely accepts to engage in business activities that potentially violate sanctions, in addition to aiding and abetting tax evasion and money laundering.
The Panama Papers include approximately 11.5 million documents – more than the combined total of the Wikileaks Cablegate, Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, and Swiss Leaks. The data primarily comprises e-mails, pdf files, photo files, and excerpts of an internal Mossack Fonseca database. It covers a period spanning from the 1970s to the spring of 2016. Panama Papers is the biggest-ever international cooperation of its kind.
- 2.6 terabytes of data from Mossack Fonseca’s founding in 1977 to December 2015
- 5 million documents, including email correspondence and legal contracts
- 214,000 shell companies used by 12 country leaders, 128 public officials, and 29 Forbes-listed billionaires
Though the Panama Papers follow the series of leaks in the past like Wikileaks Cablegate, Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, etc, it is considered to be the biggest leak ever in history. We can expect media shores intact with Panama Papers will likely release more of their findings in the coming months.