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What are the Panama Papers, which reveal tax havens’ secrets

A historic investigation has revealed the Panama Papers, documents that show how the world’s wealthiest and most powerful use tax havens.

A huge archive of documents, nicknamed the Panama Papers and leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, allowed discovering how the world uses tax havens. 107 international newspapers carried out a 9-month investigation on 11.5 million dossiers filed in the law firm founded in 1977 by German Jurgen Mossack and Panamanian Ramon Fonseca, specialists of offshore companies’ direct debit.

The Panama Papers track the law firm’s entire activity, 2015 included. The documents have been published after that the law firm itself sent an email to its clients confirming the leak on 1 April. Outraged, Fonseca denounced what it defined “a crime” and “an attack to Panama”.

1,500 times WikiLeaks

The investigative report started over a year ago, when an anonymous source reached out to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which realised the hugeness of the work thus deciding to share the information with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The non-profit organisation ICIJ already published the Offshore Leaks in 2013.

A global cooperation network allowed analysing an incredible number of files. Le Monde, one of the newspapers participating in the investigation, explained that “2.6 terabytes of data have been studied by 370 journalists in France, India, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, United States, Brazil, and Japan”. Something 1,500 times bigger than WikiLeaks.

12 heads of state

The result is unprecedented: what has been defined “the biggest leak in the history of data journalism” involves thousands of people all over the world, including twelve national leaders, six of whom are currently in office. On top of them, the papers cites 128 politicians and 29 of the 500 world’s wealthiest people according to Forbes.

All of them availed themselves of tax advantages provided by the law firm, a system based on over 214,000 offshore companies established or managed in 21 tax havens by Mossack Fonseca, and used by clients from more than 200 countries. An incredible global phenomenon, involving Luxembourg, Switzerland, Virgin Islands, Samoa Islands, Seychelles, Monaco, and the Bahamas.

From Messi to Putin

Among the most renowned characters, there are Russian President Vladimir Putin, football player Lionel Messi, FIFA former President Michel Platini, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Ukrainian President Petro Prochenko, the (deceased) father of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, companies linked to the family of Chinese President Xi Jinping, former President of Ferrari Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, former Formula One driver Jarno Trulli, and one of Europe’s leading banks Unicredit.

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