The Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is scheduled to publish on May 9 the largest-ever release of information about secret offshore companies and the people behind them, based on data from the controversial Panama Papers investigation.
At least three (still to be identified) Sri Lankan companies and their associates are said to be among the data collated by journalists in a massive exposure that has so far led to the resignation of Iceland’s Prime Minister. In Colombo, an advisor to Megapolis Minister Champika Ranawaka resigned after his name figured in a list of offshore accounts released in an earlier ICIJ probe, but which was carried by local websites a few weeks ago.
In an April 27 announcement, the ICIJ said its “searchable database” will include information about more than 200,000 companies, trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 tax havens, from Hong Kong to Nevada in the United States.
“This release is the next step in our ongoing year-long investigation; ICIJ and its partners will continue to investigate and publish more stories in the weeks and months to come,” it said.
ICIJ said the impact of Panama Papers has been epic. The investigation has led to high profile resignations, including the prime minister of Iceland; triggered official inquiries in multiple countries; and put pressure on world leaders and other politicians, such as Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, to explain their connections to offshore companies. It sparked a new sense of urgency among lawmakers and regulators to close loopholes and make information about the owners of shell companies public, it said.
The data comes from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the top players in the offshore world. It links to people in more than 200 countries and territories. When the data is released, users will be able to search through the data and visualize the networks around thousands of offshore entities, including, when possible, Mossack Fonseca’s internal records of the company’s true owners. The interactive database will also include information about more than 100,000 additional companies that were part of the 2013 ICIJ Offshore Leaks investigation.
ICIJ said it won’t release personal data en masse; the database will 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.
The Panama Papers investigation revealed the secret offshore dealings of world leaders and other politicians as well as criminals and celebrities. It exposed the role of big banks in facilitating secrecy and tax evasion and avoidance. And it showed how companies and individuals blacklisted in the U.S. and elsewhere for their links to terrorism, drug trafficking and other crimes were able to do business through offshore jurisdictions.
In the US, where several states act as tax havens for people from all over the world, President Barack Obama commented on the Panama Papers revelations and said global tax avoidance facilitated by secrecy jurisdictions is “a huge problem.” The president added 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.” – (Feizal)