April 4, 2016
With inequality in wealth distribution at an all-time high, it seems only proper that the largest data leak in journalism history contains information about how and where the world’s elite hid their money from their home countries’ tax laws. The Panama Papers look to inform the world on the seedy underbelly of financial corruption, and, for the love of all that is holy, you have to care about it.
If you haven’t heard, the Panama Papers are documents leaked from Mossack Fronsesca, a Panamanian law firm, that detail the firm’s involvement with kings, presidents, drug lords, mafia members and even sports stars trying to hide their money in off-shore accounts to avoid taxes – which, for the layman, is super illegal (particularly for the kings, presidents, drug lords, mafia members and sports stars involved).
Just rich people being rich people, right? No! This is not an instance of “Oh those pesky 1 percenters.” This is not a Scooby-Doo villain having his Panamanian mask taken off and saying “I would’ve gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those darn anonymous tipsters.” This is something you need to pay attention to for so many reasons.
Everyone Seems to Be Involved
For one, everyone is involved. There is neither the time nor the space to list everyone involved in this epic leak. But the highlights are definitely worth mentioning. For example, three current world leaders were found in the documents, including the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, the president of Argentina, Mauricio Marci and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
“I think it raises further questions for the political class as a whole because European countries, the US, the OECD, have been talking about greater transparency .. there’s been a series of scandals,” Luke Harding of The Guardian, who published reports based on the leak, told Al Jazeera. “But it turns out that, actually, offshore companies are still very popular.”
Twelve other current and former heads of state were linked in the Panama Papers along with 143 other politicians. Evidence of significant wrongdoing on the part of Russian president Vladimir Putin were also quite evident and prevalent in the documents. Beloved sports stars like Lionel Messi were even revealed to have taken advantage of this evaporating tax haven.
“Biggest Leak in the History of Data Journalism”
Secondly, it’s so much information. Edward Snowden even referred to it as “the biggest leak in the history of data journalism.” And that doesn’t even scratch the surface: 2.6 terabytes of information was leaked, and 11.5 million documents found their way into the hands of news outlets around the world. This is more than Wikileaks, Swiss leaks, Luxembourg tax files and Offshore leaks…combined. And they are still combing through it to find out who did what.
This means that this news is not going to hit all at once. You may be tempted to invest your time sparingly as the varying levels of importance of these documents will trickle through the news for months, even years. Staying informed on what was in these documents and what their implications will be in the future is the best way to further the cause on a personal level.
Conspiracy Theorists Proven Right
Lastly, the Panama Papers have given prudence to a wide range of whistle-blowers and anonymous tipsters that were viewed as nothing more than conspiracy theorists. While many could only speculate about how the elite of the world were further screwing the little guy out of a buck, the Panama Papers give the people a smoking gun to direct their anger.
The Global Risks Report 2016 suggested that data fraud and theft were one of the biggest threats to the world. With 60 to 65 other countries that run similar operations to that of Panama, the amount of information that may soon come pouring out may finally convince the world that we are not better off in the hands of the one percent.
Image via Flickr / firdaus omar
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