#PanamaPapers: What We Think

It’s the biggest leak in human history, 11.5 million documents (2.6 terrabytes of data) that implicates world leaders, celebrities and criminals in the hoarding of trillions of Dollars worth of revenue that ought to be taxed. Here, Ben Finch and Tyler McNally offer their perspectives on the Panama Papers and how they’ve been reported throughout the Media.

Ben Finch (@BenFinch1): “Hopefully the media will release the data over a period of time, like how the Snowden Files were reported on.” 

Is anyone else disappointed with the Panama Papers so far? It seems odd that $2billion can be traced back to the circle surrounding Vladimir Putin, but not whether any of David Cameron’s family money is still invested in his late father’s investment fund. All we have been told so far is what we already know. Russia is corrupt, North Korea and Iran try to hide their money and so, strangely enough, do criminals.

A blog post by Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has been doing the rounds on the internet. He says: “Do not expect a genuine expose of western capitalism. The dirty secrets of western corporations will remain unpublished. Expect hits at Russia, Iran and Syria and some tiny “balancing” western country like Iceland. A superannuated UK peer or two will be sacrificed – someone already with dementia.”

I am hoping, perhaps wishing, that the strategy the media will employ is a daily drip of news as with Snowden’s leak. This will be so that the disclosure will stay at the top of the world’s headlines for as long as possible. Dropping everything into public may only result in a day or two of headlines, and this could have focused on what we have seen so far.

There is a difference between the Panama Papers and Snowden files. When we discovered that America and the UK were spying on us all it was something we suspected. Snowden gave us concrete evidence and showed us how it was done.


Cameron has been implicated in the Panama Papers leak. His late father has kept the family wealth offshore for years.

We already know there is tax evasion on a massive scale, the Economist states that some estimates think that more than $20trillion dollars has been lost through tax havens. We have a reasonable idea of how this is carried out through the use of shell companies and nominees to hide who the true owner of the wealth is. What we don’t know is who is doing it.

The specifics that we know so far are useful and headline grabbing. Some of the wealth surrounding Putin can be examined, Cameron can be questioned over his commitment to tax evasion when his family’s wealth relies on it, the Icelandic prime minister can be embarrassed over his duplicity, and members of Ukraine’s government can try to explain why they were attempting to hide cash while supporting the revolution.

These are all well and good. But we need to know more. We need to know which companies and individuals are engaged in it and we need the money to be repatriated. $20trillion that should be sitting in government coffers, our coffers, could be hoarded away. That is money that is not being put to use – it is not flowing through our economies. It is sitting doing nothing.

Everywhere on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’s website there are caveats: “There are legitimate uses for offshore companies, foundations and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Power Players interactive application have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.” They say they will “release the full list of companies and people linked to them in early May”. They will not expose everything. For example, they do not mention if they will release exactly how much money is hidden away.

The Panama Papers are our best chance yet to expose and blow apart the system that forces the global poor to accept their lot. In order for this to happen we need to see what we don’t know already. We need to know who has hidden what, and where from.

Tyler McNally (@Redtography): “Will the largest leak in history be surpassed by the largest whitewash?”

Let’s be honest, are we actually surprised? Are we genuinely surprised that current and previous world leaders have hoarded away wealth, just like their rich donors?

It remains to be seen whether these Panama Papers will have any impact on the business as usual politics of the West. Every media entity is talking about the size of the leak, clocking in at 11.5 million documents, it is the largest in history. But until we can see the data for ourselves, we shouldn’t be so quick to equate quantity with quality.

What should be noted is how the Press have broken this story, the Guardian decided to have another go at making Putin the ‘Bogeyman of Europe’ with an uninspired 5000 word piece that connects Putin to the controversy via the money laundering of people in his closer circles. This wouldn’t be as interesting if the very same newspaper, after investing many hours in making this charlatan’s web to implicate Putin, didn’t ignore the easily laid out information regarding the current UK Prime Minister’s father, and his fortune that has been stashed away for decades.

David Cameron’s personal shit salad, courtesy of the leak, was only reported later in the evening. Tonight’s BBC Newsnight has completely glossed over the Prime Minister’s involvement. As he tries to stiffle the dissent growing amongst Junior Doctors and Teachers, a detailed investigation by a strong press would be dangerous for the embattled PM. His party is split on the EU Referendum and is starting to crack under the pressure of its own austerity agenda.

But it’s a good thing that the BBC got that memo in time.

The data won’t be released in more detail until early May, the pains of all this data being in the hands of an organisation (the ICIJ) who has questionable donors who all have things to lose and gain from this leak. I’m expecting this leak will be wasted on the chess games of the 21st Century Cold War between US, Russia and China. The last 8 years of austerity, oil wars and crony capitalism have created many unsavoury characters that would be better fit to being outside of the picture, as far as certain sections of our world’s elite are concerned.

As much as you can’t just dump 11.5 million documents on the internet and expect people to understand the seriousness of this leak. We also cannot accept the situation were the ICIJ is the gatekeeper to the biggest expose in world history, or the greatest whitewash. It depends on how they play their hand. 

That said, the Panama Papers are a great example of how people have a right to information, and Journalism has a tenacious habit of dealing in half truths and actually hiding information.