The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released online a part of the 11.5 million Panama Papers on secret offshore companies for the public’s perusal. The online database of 200,000 documents containing details of the offshore companies was made accessible to the general public on Monday.
The leaked Panama Papers now available online contain basic corporate information on companies, foundations and trusts set up in 21 jurisdictions including Hong Kong and the US state of Nevada. The data was originally maintained by a Panamanian law firm named Mossack Fonseca, which said that it was hacked.
According to the ICIJ, the database revealed the names of over 360,000 individuals and companies behind the anonymous shell firms. The leaked Panama Papers would show how the world’s richest and the most powerful use such offshore companies to stash away their wealth and avoid taxes.
Mossack Fonseca said last week that it sent a cease and desist letter to the ICIJ, urging it not to publish the data on grounds that it was based on theft of confidential information.
Today Online reported that the ICIJ said it published the database in “public interest” to support the movements against tax evasion and the secrecy accorded to owners of the anonymous shell companies. The ICIJ said that the database “allows users to explore the networks of companies and people that used — and sometimes abused — the secrecy of offshore locales with the help of Mossack Fonseca and other intermediaries.”
According to the ICIJ, it did not reveal any personal or bank account details of the owners. On the other hand, Mossack Fonseca said that it abided by the rules in identifying its client and that setting up offshore companies is not illegal by itself.
The Guardian reported that according to the anti-poverty campaigners, the shell companies are used by the wealthy to avoid tax or to launder the gains from bribery.