An unprecedented leak of encrypted documents from an offshore law firm in Panama has revealed the offshore holdings of national leaders, various public figures, and dozens of politicians.
The leak is so big — 2.6 terabytes of data, the largest in history — that nearly 400 journalists in more than 80 countries spent the last year studying the 11.5 million documents from the firm Mossack Fonseca, provided to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source. The collaboration, which included the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Guardian, the BBC, and French outlet Le Monde, is also thought to be among the largest investigative teams in history.
The ICIJ has an interactive page of politicians and their associates who are implicated in the Panama Papers leak, a list that includes the president of Argentina, the king of Saudi Arabia, and the president of Ukraine, as well as friends or family close to British prime minister David Cameron and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
While holding offshore bank accounts is not technically illegal, criminals often use the kinds of anonymous “shell companies” provided by Mossack Fonseca to hide money and financial transactions. In addition, the leak also reveals formerly unknown conflicts of interest: for example, the prime minister of Iceland never disclosed his stake in the nation’s banks, which may have influenced his handling of the country’s financial crisis.
The ICIJ plans to release a full list of the companies and people linked to those companies in May.