It was about 3:00 p.m. (-5 GMT) on a lazy hot Sunday afternoon when the product hit the fan in Panama. The country was violently shaken to its core by the news published in Germany by the Zuddeutsche Zeitun newspaper.
The paper broke the story of a scandal at a global scale about a Panamanian company identified as Mossack-Fonseca that had organized approximately 214,000 offshore companies scattered in more than 200 countries involved in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, arms sales to Iran and North Korea and tax evasion. About 500 top banks worldwide were also involved in this scheme.
The publication narrated that 11.5 million documents equivalent to 2.6 terabytes of information were hacked from Mossack-Fonseca main offices in Panama. The content of the hacked information included financial records, passports, and general correspondence of the corporation’s clients stretching back 40 years.
A group of 107 journalists known as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIV) from 78 countries dug deep into the activities of thousands of offshores companies organized in Panama by Mossack-Fonseca. More than 100 publications in nearly 80 countries were the results of the investigation which lasted more than three years.
More than 140 offshore acounts were linked to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, the Presidents of South Africa, Syria, China, Ukraine and Russia; and the Prime Minister of Iceland. The latter resigned from his post shortly after the scandal broke out. Also top members of FIFA are being investigated as a result of this computer breach. Allegedly more than 140 political figures, including 12 current or former heads of state hid their cash inside these offshore shell companies.
The scandal is huge; larger than the Wiki-Leaks revealed by Julian Assange and the military leaks revealed by Edward Snowden combined. Assange is presently confined to the Embassy of Ecuador in London and Snowden is now living in Russia running away from American authorities.
Snowden was responsible for leaking to the media details of extensive Internet and phone surveillance by American intelligence. He has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, and faces espionage charges over his actions in the U.S.
As a fallout of the Panama Papers, France decided to include Panama in a gray list of countries who are not cooperating in providing information about the transparence of offshore companies. Panama authorities are fighting tooth and nail to persuade France to erase Panama from the list. The situation is very tense in Panama as more information about the scandal evolves.
On Sunday I visited the premises of Mossack-Fonseca located in an exclusing banking area surrounded by impressive high-rise buildings. This is what I saw there:
Another story of hubris and greed which has placed Panama on its knees. Which will be the next one?