All you need to know about Panama Papers and Indians found on the list
Information from nearly 1.15 crore encrypted documents -- now being called the "Panama Papers" -- leaked from the files of the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, have revealed terabytes worth of information about thousands of companies and hundreds of persons who set up offshore companies to evade tax and launder money.
The information was first leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ)'s journalist over a year ago. The information was later handed over to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The documents were then made available to about 100 media organisations, all members or ICIJ including The Indian Express. These media organisations sifted through the scores of documents, investigated the linkages, joined the dots and, eventually made the information public on April 4.
Panama Papers is now the largest international cooperation of its kind in the world. In the last one year, around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organisations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents. Journalists from media organisations like Süddeutsche Zeitung, BBC, Guardian, Falter, The Indian Express, among others, have worked on the project. The leak is now touted as the biggest data leak to journalists.
According to a report in The Indian Express, 500 Indians are on the list, from Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, real-estate developer DLF's KP Singh, to politicians Anurag Kejriwal.
The documents contain data of over 214,000 offshore companies set up in the last forty years. However, ICIJ has maintained that many of these companies are likely tobe for legitimate purposes also.
The Panama Papers have revealed the names of people from Mossack Fonseca's biggest clients, J P Damiani. Big names include Russian President Vladamir Putin whose cronies have been linked to several offshore entities routing nearly $2 billion to the President. Other names include Juan Pedro Damiani, Member of FIFA Ethics Committee, Eugenio Figueredo, FiFA Vice-President, Lionel Messi, Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and hundeds of other bureaucrats, high net worth individuals.
Here's what you need to know:
What is Mossack Fonseca?
Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm, sells anonymous offshore companies around the world. These shell companies allow their promoters to hide their business dealings. Mossack Fonseca has dozens of offices all over the world. In the last nearly 40 years of its existence, the company has founded, sold and managed thousands of offshore companies.
The company helps its clients along with banks, to set up shell companies in various parts of the world.
Whoever wants to buy an anonymous company can buy it through Mossack Fonseca for as little as $1,000 (nearly Rs 66,290). For an extra fee, it also provides a sham (fake) director and if the clients' desire it conceals the company's true shareholder. In short, the company is into the business of withholding the true identity of the offshore company's owner.
Are there any Indians involved?
According to a report in The Indian Express, the only Indian newspaper to have partnered with the ICIJ in the investigation, there are nearly 500 Indians who used the Central American country to park their money. Reports suggest that some of these offshore accounts may be used for tax evasion purposes.
Some of the noted Indians whose names have surfaced include Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, KP SIngh of DLF, the erstwhile Loksatta Party politican Anurag Kejriwal, Adani Enterprises Chairman Gautam Adani's brother Vinod Adani, Indiabulls' Sameer Gehlaut.
How the leak took place?
An anonymous source contacted German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ)'s journalist over a year ago and submitted after chatting over several, always changing encrypted chatting platforms, submitted encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca. In the following months, the newspaper found that the number of documents continued to grow far beyond the original leak and therefore, eventually leading to 2.6 terabytes of data, making it the biggest that journalists have ever worked on.
Any demands from source?
The source who leaked this information was neither looking for any financial compensation nor anything else in return, apart from a few security measures. "I want to make these crimes public," the told the SZ journalist who still doesn't know who his source really is.
What's the data all about?
The 11.5 million leaked documents reveal information about how the overseas entities' industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the assets of the world's rich and famous, from politicians, FIFA officials, fraudsters, drug smugglers, to celebrities and professional athletes.
It has been making information public about how the Panamanian firm routinely accepted investments from the world's rich and famous to engage in business activities that potentially violate sanctions, besides helping and abetting tax evasion and money laundering.
How big is the data leak and what does it comprise of?
It includes approximately 11.5 million documents which are more than the combined total of the Wikileaks Cablegate, Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, Swiss Leaks.
It mainly comprises of emails, pdf files, photo files, passport copies, and excerpts of an internal Mossack Fonseca database. The data covers a period right from the 1970s to 2016.
What's the scale of the leak?
The Panama Papers leak comprises of approximate 2.6 terabytes (TB) of data which is the largest data leak to have ever taken place.
In 2015, the Swiss Leaks/ International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) had 3.3 gigabytes (GB) volume of data while the Luxemberg Leaks/ICIJ in 2014 had 4 GB.
In 2013, the Offshore Leaks/ICIJ had 260 GB of data.
In 2010, the Cablegate/ Wikileaks had 1.7 GB of data
(With inputs from Süddeutsche Zeitung's (SZ) website)