Whistleblower says leak of 11.5m Mossack Fonseca files on offshore tax havens has triggered debate but not enough action
The whistleblower behind the Panama Papers broke their silence on Friday to explain in detail how the injustices of offshore tax havens drove them to the biggest data leak in history.
The source, whose identity and gender remain a secret, denied being a spy.
“For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own.”
The whistleblower said the leak of 11.5m documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca had triggered a “new, encouraging global debate”, thanks to the publication last month of stories by an international consortium of newspapers, including the Guardian.
“Shell companies are often associated with the crime of tax evasion. But thePanama Papers show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal, by definition they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes,” the source wrote. “Income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time.”
“The prevailing media narrative thus far has focused on the scandal of what is allowed and legal in this system. What is allowed is indeed scandalous and must be changed.”
In what amounts to an 1,800-word manifesto days before David Cameron holds a global anti-corruption summit in London, the source singled out the Conservatives, saying they had been “shameless about concealing their own practices involving offshore companies”.
Cameron was forced to disclose last month he held shares in Blairmore, his father’s offshore investment fund. More than 40 countries are due to attend the summit on Thursday.
The source behind the Panama Papers got in touch last year with Bastian Obermayer, an investigative journalist with Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitungnewspaper. They used the name John Doe and sent the message: “Interested in secret data?”
The source gave Süddeutsche Zeitung leaked documents from Mossack Fonsecca’s internal database in real time instalments. The papers included details of the beneficial owners of offshore companies, passport copies, and emails. The newspaper shared the material with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington.
In one of the biggest collaborations in journalistic history, the ICIJ gave access to the data to 100 media organisations, in 83 countries, which spent a year investigating them.
The source said they decided to act after understanding the “scale of the injustices” the documents described. Mossack Fonseca denies wrongdoing and says its operations in Panama and elsewhere are “beyond reproach”.
Since the publication of the papers last month, governments and law enforcement agencies have sought access to the files. The ICIJ had “rightly” declined to help, the source said, but added: “I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcements to the extent that I am able.”
Intriguingly, the source said they originally offered the documents to “several major media outlets”. Editors reviewed the Panama Papers but in the end “chose not to cover them”, they alleged. It is unclear which media organisations declined the material.
The anonymous whistleblower also approached WikiLeaks – again without success. “Even WikiLeaks didn’t answer its tip line repeatedly,” the source complained, adding: “The media has failed.”
The source was excoriating about the legal profession, which helped set up tens of thousands of Mossack Fonseca-run shell companies. More than half the law firm’s offshore corporations were based in the British Virgin Islands, a UK-administered tax haven.
“Mossack Fonseca did not work in a vacuum. Despite repeated fines and documented regulatory violations, it found allies and clients at major law firms in virtually every nation,” the manifesto claimed.
The source was also critical of governments, in particular over their harsh treatment of whistleblowers. They appear to have been inspired at least in part by the example of Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed how the US and UK routinely monitor the communications of their own citizens. The Obama administration has charged Snowden with espionage and he was “stranded in Moscow”.
“For his revelations about the NSA, he [Snowden] deserves a hero’s welcome and a substantial prize, not banishment,” the source said.
Other whistleblowers who have faced punishment for their actions include Antoine Deltour, the source noted. Deltour is on trial for revealing how Luxembourg secretly sanctioned massive, aggressive cross-border tax avoidance by multinational corporations.
The source supported moves by Cameron to introduce public registers of offshore companies which would show the beneficial owners of companies. Britain is to introduce a public register for UK companies next month. But Downing Street has so far been unable to persuade Britain’s overseas territories to follow suit. They have offered to share information, but only with law enforcement agencies and only on demand.
Despite some positive steps, the UK government needed to do more, the source said: “The UK still has a vital role to play in ending financial secrecy on various island territories, which are unquestionably the cornerstone of institutional corruption worldwide.”
The whistleblower was generally underwhelmed by official reaction to the leak. In New Zealand, the prime minister, John Key, had been “curiously quiet” about his country’s role in enabling “financial fraud” in the Cook Islands. In the US, tax evasion could not be fixed, the source argued, while politicians relied on the super-rich for campaign funding.
The source concluded on an optimistic note. In an age of “inexpensive, limitless digital storage” and internet connections that transcend national boundaries “the next revolution will be digitised”.
“Or perhaps it has already begun,” the source said.
Credit: Süddeutsche Zeitung