The Panama Papers: Where Are the Americans?
If the Panama Papers are released on May 9 as expected, many of the names
they contain may avoid the public spotlight.
M. Palmer and Richard L.
April 2016 | Updated
October 12, 2020 | More Articles
variety of professional reasons dealing with our international investigation
business, including close contacts to some of the participants, we have been
following very closely the news accounts of the Panama Papers.
recent conversations with clients and colleagues, several have asked why
relatively few Americans have been exposed so far and when more findings will be
published. The short answer is that no one knows which names of which nationals
having done business with Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm and corporate
service provider, will be published or when.
A brief explanation follows.
The Panama Papers are a leaked set of 11.5 million confidential
documents that provide detailed information about more than 214,000 offshore
companies (including many companies shareholders and directors) in 21 offshore
jurisdictions. The 2.6 terabytes of data included information about transactions
from as far back as the 1970s.
Papers data was passed by an unknown (or unidentified) source to the
Munich-based German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung (South German
Newspaper). Given the enormous scale of the leak, the newspaper enlisted the
help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ),
headquartered in Washington, D.C., which distributed the documents for
investigation and analysis to some 400 journalists at 107 media organizations in
news reports based on the papers, and 149 of the documents themselves, were
published on April 3, 2016.
On April 26, 2016, the ICIJ announced the following:
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.
With respect to the ICIJs earlier
assertion that it would not disclose the whole database, 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.
also stated that the ICIJ will not allow independent research on such important
source material by allowing affiliated corporate media outlets to decide whats
in the public interest for their respective countries. The source material will
not be made available for independent research even with WikiLeaks-style
redactions, he stated, because to do so would put innocent private individuals
Regarding U.S. names in the Panama Papers, the ICIJ has stated
that the collective review to date has revealed about 4,000 U.S. addresses
listed in the document, but that many of the addresses appear to belong to
U.S.-based lawyers who may have opened offshore companies for clients for any
number of legitimate reasons, such as privacy, managing offshore properties,
trusts, etc. (Each release of data notes that having an offshore company is
neither illegal nor an indication of illegality.)
A few U.S.
persons found guilty of fraud or having court financial judgments against them
have been named, as well as one U.S. entertainment management icon and several
persons who were past donors to Hilary Clintons political campaigns and/or the
admitting to any concerns, the ICIJ seems justifiably wary of lawsuits stemming
from possible charges of defamation of character, libel, etc. Particularly in
the litigious U.S., owners of offshore companies could claim that their
reputation had been damaged by the publication of their names with those of drug
dealers, greedy politicians, etc. Therefore, the ICIJ will likely be very
selective about which documents it publishes, and it is possible that the names
of relatively few Americans will be published.
Even with over 400 journalists having worked on this project
for a year, it is likely that they have only scratched the surface of the over
11.5 million documents to be reviewed. How many of the journalists have the
necessary experience to make expert decisions or the capacity to pursue this
project on a full-time basis? Who will then review these documents before they
are released? How long will it take?
We suspect that, as a practical matter, documents and the names of companies and
individuals will continue to trickle out over the coming year or two, and many
will never see the light of day. But the findings that are released should make
for interesting 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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