The Panama Papers: How The Ultra Rich Got Caught Hiding Billions Offshore In 2016

By | July 6, 2020

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In 2016, the Panama Papers were on the cover of every newspaper, and it felt like something big was about to happen. Just as quickly as the leak was exposed, however, it went away. So what happened?

What Were The Panama Papers?

We've all heard of offshore tax shelters, but the Panama Papers provided a detailed outline of the inner workings of one of the biggest tax shelters in the world, Mossack Fonseca. They contained nearly 40 years of information about the Panama-based law firm, including a 2015 audit showing that M.F. only knew the real identities of 204 of 14,086 companies they had assisted to incorporate in Seychelles, a collection of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean.

The amount of information in the documents is staggering, but the biggest takeaway is that major foreign political players, sports stars, and parents of the rich and famous all had shell accounts through Mossack Fonseca. The documents that were leaked to Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung not only showed that a lot of people were up to something fishy (at the very least) but also that Mossack Fonseca was aware of the possibility that people and corporations were participating in criminal activities with the help of their offshore shelters.

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Naming Names

The documents don't just include the names of wealthy business people that you've never heard of—they incriminate some of the biggest world leaders and their families. The Papers name 12 current or former world leaders, the most notable figure being Vladimir Putin. The Russian president left a $2 billion paper trail snaking through an offshore state bank, his cellist best friend, and the ski resort where his daughter was married in 2013.

President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and British Prime Minister David Cameron are also named in the Papers. Also included is a trove of FIFA players—including Lionel Messi, captain of the Spanish club Barcelona and the Argentine national team—alongside members of the governing body of European soccer, the UEFA.