It often happens that a news event shakes the world, and such an event is usually linked to the leak of secret documents. A couple of years ago the leaks by Edward Snowden revealed to the world the scope of U.S. electronic spying programs and more recently it was the “Panama Papers” leak which shed a light on the staggering amount of wealth stashed in offshore tax havens by the rich and famous. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has now put up a Panama Papers searchable database online, enabling us to see these secret documents for ourselves.
There has already been a considerable backlash following the leaks. A couple of prime ministers and ministers have resigned while investigations are underway in several countries to determine if politicians and businessmen have broken any local laws by hiding their money in offshore havens.
The Panama Papers refer to millions of secret documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm called Mossack Fonseca, a firm contracted by people from across the globe for setting up offshore companies. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists analyzed the documents and reported on it, and it’s now releasing those documents online in a searchable database.
ICIJ says that this database contains ownership information of companies created in ten offshore jurisdictions, including but not limited to the Cook Islands, Singapore, and the British Virgin Islands. The documents cover nearly three decades until 2010.
The entire database is searchable, though ICIJ does point out that legitimate companies may get caught in this leak as well, so it’s important to keep in mind the fact that creating an offshore company is not illegal. The question of legality arises when an offshore company is used for tax evasion or used for hiding money obtained illegally through corruption, terrorism, etc.