Panama Papers provide roadmap to hidden assets

Monday, April 4, 2016

"Follow the money" was the advice "Deep Throat" gave to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, investigating the Watergate break-in that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

If they were doing their job with today's access to the Internet, Woodward and Bernstein might have found a lot of that money headed overseas.

Now, thanks to hackers, 11.5 million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca show how 140 the world's rich and powerful, including 72 current or former heads of state, use overseas tax havens to hide their wealth, launder money, dodge sanctions and avoid taxes.

Some 107 media organizations in 78 countries have had time to analyze the leaked files.

For its part, the law firm says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and has never been charged with criminal wrong-doing.

That may be true, but the revelations are proving embarrassing for world leaders whose activities must not only pass the legality test, but also the "smell test."

Who are some of the leaders?

Vladimir Putin's name isn't on the list, but some $2 billion of assets belong to his close friends, including famous Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin.

Putin's spokesman complained that he was the subject of "rude" questioning and was being unfairly targeted.

Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson was incorrectly reported to be resigning (thanks to a Google mistranslation) over financial dealings revealed in the Panama Papers, but he is accused of hiding his undeclared interest in his country's failed banks behind an offshore company.

Syrian President Bashar Assad was linked to his two cousins, Rami and Hafez Makhlouf, who at one time controlled access to Syria's oil and telecoms industries.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who has crusaded against corruption, is accused of hiding interests in a European candy manufacturer and became sole shareholder fo a company that was set up in the British Virgin Islands just as Russian troops were sent to fight in Ukraine in 2014.

The Australian Taxation Office said it was investigating more than 800 wealthy Australians for possible tax evasion linked to the Panamanian lawfirm, and hundreds of other prominent people from around the world as well.

We have yet to read reports of any Americans on the list, but there are certainly many links.

All this goes to reinforce the position of those like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who decry the power of the "1 percent" who control the vast majority of the world's wealth, and who enjoy the majority of economic growth.

The question that remains to be answered is how to rein in the unfair advantages enjoyed by wealthy persons without suppressing economic growth.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: