The Panama Papers and Data for Sale:
Anyone claiming to have access to the entire Panama Papers database and offering traces for payment should be viewed with skepticism.
M. Palmer and Richard L.
April 2016 | Updated
June 19, 2018 | More Articles
Last month, shortly after the 2015 leak of the
Panama Papers was made public, we began seeing offers to sell alleged
traces of persons and companies mentioned in the 11.5 million confidential
documents in the stolen database.
It is not surprising that shady
operators would try to cash in on this sensational development, and our advice to
anyone considering the purchase of alleged Panama Papers data is caveat emptor
(let the buyer beware). We believe that, after you read this article, you will
agree that caution is justified.
The Panama Papers data was passed by
an unknown (or unidentified) source to the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung
(South German Newspaper). That company enlisted the help of the International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which distributed the documents for investigation and analysis to some 400
journalists at 107 media organizations in 76 countries.
The Panama Papers reportedly contain
information about more than 214,000 offshore companies including the
identities of company shareholders and directors compiled by the Panamanian
law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca. The first news reports
based on the papers, and 149 of the documents themselves, were published on
April 3, 2016.
The documents released thus far
identified several current and former heads of state and government officials,
from more than 40 countries, in addition to close relatives and associates of
those officials, many of whom apparently used certain corporate investments to
shield assets from public scrutiny.
More to Come
More than 100
media outlets have cooperated on this project, but only the ICIJ and Süddeutsche
Zeitung have had access to the entire database, and neither has published or
granted access to the complete database or the abridged version that will be
Shortly after the Panama Papers' existence was made public, the
ICIJ asserted that it would not “disclose the whole database,” and the
publication date was subject to speculation.
However, on April 26, 2016, the ICIJ announced:
“On May 9 ICIJ will publish what will likely be the
largest-ever release of information about secret offshore companies and the
people behind them, based on data from the Panama Papers investigation. The
searchable database will include information about more than 200,000 companies,
trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 tax havens, from Hong Kong to
Nevada in the United States.”
It is still unclear whether the “more than 200,000” entities in
the database to be released on May 9 will include all 214,000 companies. We
anticipate that an incomplete release would give rise to a cottage industry
built around offers of vague traces of the “entire Panama Papers,” the
provenance of which could not be confirmed.
The tight security with which the ICIJ has managed the database,
combined with the ICIJs plans to make public the names of thousands of clients, shareholders and owners of
offshore companies, suggests that (a) purported vendors of Panama Papers data
dont have what they claim to have, and (b) on May 9 much of what they
purport to sell will likely be readily available, free of charge.
As for the legitimacy
of would-be sellers of Panama Papers data, our review of websites that claim to
provide links to Panama Papers archives strongly suggest that those sites do not
deliver on what they promise.
For example, the
Reporter Times purports to offer the Panama Papers: ICIJ Offshore Leaks
Database Documents Download (Complete). The latest date on any of these files
is March 23, 2014; unfortunately, the first of the leaked data was received in
early 2015. Further, these listed files do not include Panama Papers material;
rather, at the
bottom of that webpage is a list of interesting links to articles and partial
lists of persons and companies named in the Panama Papers, but we see nothing
there that is not available elsewhere on the web.
Also, we have been approached by
several investigators who claim to be able to offer traces of the Panama Papers
for payment. Some attribute their success in uncovering their data to their
uniquely superior search skills, while others claim that what they have to sell
was found only on the darknet. (A darknet is an overlay network that can be
accessed only with specific software, configurations or authorization, often
using non-standard communications protocols and ports.)
Both claims have serious flaws.
According to the ICIJ, if the data
is genuine, it was probably acquired via access to one of the partial or
incomplete databases to be used only by authorized journalists or researchers
in other words, it was illegally obtained. Thus, the data would be difficult, if
not impossible, to use in a legal setting, and the eventual client would need to
know that the information had weaknesses, to put it mildly, in terms of sourcing.
Further, a senior ICIJ official
stated to us very recently that the ICIJ staff is still going through Panama
Papers files that have not yet been processed. As a result, the main
database is not complete and will not be totally complete even when it is
released May 9. Rather, the ICIJ staff will be updating the official ICIJ
website for months to come.
Thus, anyone claiming to have access
to the entire Panama Papers database and offering traces for payment should be
viewed with healthy skepticism. By definition, their offered products would not be a
complete trace, and the problems with provenance could be a legal issue.
It should be emphasized that, when
the database is released as expected on May 9, it will be available to everyone, but it will not be a
complete list of the documents in the actual main database. It should be easily
accessible, as was the case in previously published archives from the ICIJ, such
Swiss Leaks data and the
main primary archive.
Therefore, we suggest that you wait for the authentic information. Surely, it
will be worth the wait; after all, these are documents and information that will
be difficult, if not impossible, to refute, and provenance should not be an
In the meantime, for a taste of what
may be to come, there are interesting but partial lists of Panama Papers
information at the following links. Happy reading!
To discuss a corporate intelligence or financial
investigation matter, or to learn more about Cachet Internationals
investigative resources in your jurisdiction, contact
Michele Palmer by
email or at
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