Accessibility links

Guide to the Panama Papers

  • VOA News

The website of the Mossack Fonseca law firm is pictured in this illustration taken April 4, 2016.

The website of the Mossack Fonseca law firm is pictured in this illustration taken April 4, 2016.

What happens Monday? The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) will release to the public a searchable database of documents that reveals the details of more than 200,000 offshore entities and the people in more than 200 countries and territories connected to those accounts.

The ICIJ will make the database available at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 UTC): https://offshoreleaks.icij.org.

What are the Panama Papers? The largest leak – the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information – ever, exposing data about secret offshore companies. The Panama Papers, as they have been called, are 11.5 million documents belonging to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The nearly 40 years' worth of documents show how the firm helped some wealthy people set up offshore firms, often used to hide assets and avoid taxes and sanctions.

Named in the documents: Owners of offshore companies include 140 politicians, including 12 current and former political leaders; billionaires; sports stars; drug smugglers; mafia members; also at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence of their involvement in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords or with rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran.

What is Mossack Fonseca? Panamanian law firm, considered the world's fourth-largest provider of offshore services.

Law firm response: Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing and said it was not the source of the leak.

Who leaked the information? No details regarding the source's identity or gender have yet been released, but source calls self "John Doe."

When did this begin? John Doe contacted the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung more than a year ago, offering encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists says it will release Monday, May 9, 2016, to the public a searchable database at: https://offshoreleaks.icij.org.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists says it will release Monday, May 9, 2016, to the public a searchable database at: https://offshoreleaks.icij.org.

What happened with documents? Süddeutsche Zeitung and the ICIJ joined forces to analyze the data. Over the past year, nearly 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents.

VOA's Zimbabwe Service was a reporting partner with the ICIJ. Reporter Ray Choto focused on documents that alleged Zimbabwe's leading platinum mining firm, Zimplats Holdings, used an offshore company to pay management salaries without the knowledge of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and in violation of exchange control laws.

Fallout has included:

Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson decided to step down after leaked documents showed his wife owned an offshore company that held debt from failed Icelandic banks.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was criticized over his past investment in an offshore account set up by his late father. Cameron admitted he profited from the offshore fund but denied doing anything wrong.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif denied any wrongdoing by himself or his sons after documents revealed his children own several offshore companies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied allegations of corruption among his closest associates, saying the so-called Panama Papers are part of a Western campaign to undermine Russia. The documents suggest about $2 billion in transactions were secretly shuffled through banks and shadow companies by associates of Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he answers a question during his annual call-in show in Moscow, April 14, 2016. He called the Panama Papers revelations a Western campaign to undermine Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he answers a question during his annual call-in show in Moscow, April 14, 2016. He called the Panama Papers revelations a Western campaign to undermine Russia.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko defended his use of an offshore account, saying an offshore holding company set up for his candy business was necessary to put his assets into a blind trust when he became president in 2014.

Documents revealed relatives of the 10 top Chinese political figures held offshore companies. Named Communist Party leaders were Chinese President Xi Jinping, Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Li Peng, Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong, Tian Jiyun, Hu Yaobang, Mao Zedong and Bo Xilai.

Documents also revealed more relatives of current and former Chinese political leaders have been found to be Hong Kong residents.

Website links:

The Panama Papers, ICIJ release

Coverage by Süddeutsche Zeitung

The Panama Papers source speaks out

WATCH: Related video on Panama Papers

XS
SM
MD
LG