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Panama Papers Source Cites 'Income Inequality' Behind Leak

  • VOA News

The anonymous source behind the leak of the Panama Papers says "income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time," and that governments need to do more to address the issue.

Days before the information is to be made available to the public, the source released an 1,800-word statement to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) explaining the motive for leaking the information and justifying the action.

"Banks, financial regulators and tax authorities have failed. Decisions have been made that have spared the wealthy while focusing instead on reining in middle- and low-income citizens," the source wrote.

No details pointing toward the source's identity have yet been released, but Süddeutsche Zeitung said it could confirm the statement did come from the person or entity who first provided details about the documents.

Leak of documents

In early April, media organizations wrote about the largest leak - the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information - ever, exposing data about secret offshore companies. The Panama Papers, as they have been called, were 11.5 million documents belonged to the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama; they showed how the firm helped some wealthy people set up offshore firms, often used to hide assets and avoid taxes and sanctions.

FILE - A Mossack Fonseca law firm logo is pictured in Panama City, April 3, 2016

FILE - A Mossack Fonseca law firm logo is pictured in Panama City, April 3, 2016

The Panamanian firm has denied any wrongdoing and said it was not the source of the leak.

The ICIJ, a global network of nearly 200 investigative journalists who collaborate on watchdog-style stories, worked with the leaked documents for months.

Reporters working on the project revealed the hidden assets of hundreds of politicians, officials, current and former national leaders, celebrities and sports stars. The ICIJ also listed more than 200,000 shell companies, foundations and trusts set up in tax havens around the world.

On Monday at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 UTC), the ICIJ says it will release to the public a searchable database at: https://offshoreleaks.icij.org.

The documents detail ties between 368,000 people and 300,000 offshore entities, the ICIJ said.

"You'll see companies and their official owners. This is information that's never been available," said Marina Walker Guevara, ICIJ deputy director. "We think that information about who owns the company should be public and transparent."

Source seeks immunity

The source, who uses the pseudonym "John Doe," offered to help law-enforcement officials in prosecutions related to offshore money laundering and tax evasion, but only in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The anonymous source behind the Panama Papers speaks to justifications for the massive leak of offshore documents in a statement, "The Revolution Will Be Digitized."

The anonymous source behind the Panama Papers speaks to justifications for the massive leak of offshore documents in a statement, "The Revolution Will Be Digitized."

So far, only copies of incriminating documents have been released, according to the statement from "John Doe."

"Thousands of prosecutions could stem from the Panama Papers, if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents," the source said. "I ... would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able."

However, the source, whose gender is unknown, also cited the need for better whistle-blower protections.

"Legitimate whistle-blowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution," the source said, commenting on the rationale for the exposure of the documents. "I have watched as, one after another, whistle-blowers and activists in the United States and Europe have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing."

Süddeutsche Zeitung, the newspaper that verified the statement's source, and ICIJ released the document to the media on Friday – the same day U.S. President Barack Obama issued his administration's Customer Due Diligence rule. That proposed legislation would require the financial industry to identify the real owners of shell companies, in order to help prevent corruption, the hiding of assets and tax evasion.

VOA link to ICIJ

The ICIJ published the source's statement, titled "The Revolution Will Be Digitized," on its website.

The title is similar to a 1970 poem and song by Gil Scott-Heron called "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," which made a case against complacency, American consumerism and capitalism.

VOA's Zimbabwe Service was a reporting partner with the ICIJ.

Reporter Ray Choto focused on information in the leaked documents alleging that 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.

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