The Panama Papers, a huge trove of documents that reveal how a Central American law firm allegedly set up shell companies to help heads of state and international criminals conceal their riches, has already prodded regulators into action, rattled sitting politicians and spurred international calls for banking transparency. Here’s a look at what they are and where the revelations may lead.
What’s in the documents?
The 11.5 million documents -- which take up 2.6 terabytes of space on a hard drive, more than the cache of State Department cables uncovered by WikiLeaks in 2010 -- contain 40 years of records from Mossack Fonseca, a niche law firm that represents wealthy business clients and has 40 offices around the globe, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which led reporting on the leaked documents.
ICIJ, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that coordinates cross-border reporting projects, published a dozen stories about the records over the weekend and says more are on the way. It says the documents reveal that the law firm set up more than 300,000 shell companies, many in tax havens, to help clients conceal their assets.
Many of the shell companies were created for legitimate purposes. But the ICIJ said that thousands of them appear to have been used to dodge taxes, allow officials of corrupt governments to conceal vast wealth offshore or enable high-net-worth clients to hide assets from business partners and ex-spouses.