Update 4/10/2016. In fact some Americans are named in the Panama Papers documents. And rich Americans and American corporations have ways to hide their wealth without going abroad. There’s more in the links below.
Trillions of dollars—an enormous fraction of the world’s wealth—is concealed in secret accounts outside the jurisdiction of the nations of which the owners are citizens. It is invisible and inaccessible to criminal investigators, tax collectors, bill collectors and divorcing spouses.
Now the world has a glimpse of some of those secret accounts, thanks to a leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, to a German daily newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Mossack Fonseca specializes in registering corporations in tax havens. The leaked documents had information on more than 214,000 companies and 140 world leaders.
The staff of Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spent a year sifting through the leaked documents, and shared their information with other news organizations.
Interestingly few if any of the leaked documents implicated Americans or American corporations. Maybe Americans don’t happen to use Mossack Fonseca to register their companies. Or maybe there is more information yet to be revealed. Or maybe somebody had a hidden agenda.
When I worked as a newspaper reporter, I sometimes had tips or leaks from people with ulterior motives. That didn’t deter me so long as the tips or leaks led to true information. I was aware, though, that what I was being steered to see might not be the whole story, and that it was important to think about whose axe was being ground.
Whatever the motive of the leaker in this case, tax havens are a serious problem. They also are a fairly easy problem to fix, if governments had the will to do so. Many are in territories under the direct jurisdiction of the British government. And, as Kevin Drum pointed out, the United States could easily refuse access to U.S. banks to shell companies in known tax havens.
Panama Papers: Secrets of Dirty Money by the staff of Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
The Panama Papers: Politicians, Criminals and the Rogue Industry That Hides Their Cash by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Massive leak exposes how wealthy and powerful hide their money by Kevin G. Hall and Marisa Taylor for McClatchy newspapers.
Corporate Media Gatekeepers Protect Western 1% From Panama Leak by Craig Murray.
Why Critic Craig Murray Needs the Scorecard Before He Can Name the Players by Richard Smith for naked capitalism. [added 4/6/2016]
200 people in the U.S. exposed for using tax havens in Panama by David Smith for The Guardian [added 4/6/2016]
The World’s Largest Tax Haven Is the United States by Jesse Drucker for Bloomberg News. [added 4/8/2016]
Co-Founder of Mossack Fonseca Defends Law Firm at Center of ‘Panama Papers’, an interview with the Wall Street Journal. [added 4/9/2016]
Questioning the Picture Painted in the WSJ’s Interview with Jürgen Mossack by Richard Smith for naked capitalism. [added 4/9/2016]
Americans Named in Panama Papers Leak, an interview of McClatchy Newspapers’ Tim Johnson on the Real News Network. [added 4/10/2016]
Global Tax Haven Network Means Americans Can Hide Their Wealth at Home, an interview of investigative economist James S. Henry on the Real News Network. [added 4/10/2016]