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The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Powerful Hide Their Money Kindle Edition
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'This is an extremely important book - this decade's most important rather than this year's.', Times Literary Supplement
‘The authors expose a shockingly corrupt system...[an] important indictment of the shadow economy that flourishes even as the legitimate economy suffers.’, Kirkus
‘A tale of fearless and careful reporting.’, Financial Times
‘Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, the authors of this powerful, lucid, book, show us how the very rich hide their money…They should make journalists proud – and may even help to make the world a better place.’, Peter Oborne, New Statesman
‘This is the inside story of how governments, corporations and organised crime groups have used the secret world of offshore jurisdictions to engage in systematic cheating and thieving. It's an almost perfect tale for the 21st century - the failure of democracy, the triumph of commercial power and greed, greed, greed.’ -- Nick Davies, special correspondent, Guardian
‘With precision and purpose, The Panama Papers is what “Follow the Money” means.’ -- Bob Woodward, The Washington Post
‘The biggest leak in the history of data journalism’ -- Edward Snowden
‘The fascinating struggle of David against Goliath... A brilliantly written book.’, Frankfurter Rundschau --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
About the Author
- File size : 1758 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 470 pages
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Publisher : Oneworld Publications; Revised edition (30 March 2017)
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- ASIN : B06X9QPDN2
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #30,475 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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On 3rd April 2016, we came to know about the biggest data breach in history. The repercussion of the scandal touched every corner of the globe. The existence of tax havens was already known but the astonishment factor was the sheer scale of revelations, which dwarfs even the data size released by WikiLeaks in 2010. The biggest data leak was known as Panama Papers. It created an overnight sensation and caused widespread anger. Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca was passed to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ). It contains 2.6 terabytes of data. For a year, a team of 370 journalists accessed and researched the collection. The matter was completely kept secret by all journalists until they agreed-upon a date when a report of the leak’s existence was published for the first time. The documents revealed how the firm had assisted companies and individuals from more than 200 countries to hide their money in offshore accounts, tax havens, and shell companies. It disclosed how the superrich avails these means to conceal their wealth, escape public scrutiny, dodge sanctions, and avoid paying taxes. Even suspected criminals use it to launder illicit earnings. Who leaked the documents to the German journalists in the first place? Nobody knows who leaked the documents. The person is anonymous even to the German journalist.
Now, who all are mentioned in the papers? The names were revealed and related statistics made it not only interesting but staggering as well. Over 140+ politicians and family members of government officials from 33 countries were named in the leak. Some of the prominent names were Argentina President Mauricio Macri, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Iceland Prime Minister Sigmunder Gunnlaugsson and former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawab Sharif. Other includes brother-in-law of China’s President Xi Jinping, son of former Egyptian President, former vice president of Iraq, associate and close friend of Vladimir Putin. Accomplices of African dictators, Central American drug barons and convicted sex offenders too figured in the list. The scandal also touches football’s governing body, FIFA. The list is endless. The list of famous people in this dirty and murkier world is so extensive that you are going to lose track.
The chief protagonist Mossack Fonseca was the 4th largest provider of offshore services. It has acted as a registered agent for more than two lakh companies. The firm has handled around 3 trillion-dollar worth of transactions, for their clients from more than 100 countries. The firm was based in Panama and it ran a worldwide operation. It operated in tax havens like Switzerland, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands. It administered offshore firms for a yearly fee. Its other services included wealth management. The firm had vehemently denied it’s involvement in any wrong-doings. It had always maintained that and had never worked directly with any end clients but only with intermediaries like an asset manager, manager, accounts, lawyers, bank and trust companies. It defended its conduct and claimed to comply with anti-money laundering laws and carry out thorough due diligence on all its clients. It has been masquerading its identity and intent from the world.
What ensued after the leak? As expected, the aftermath was on the predicted line. The story attracted attention among the media and the public. It triggered far more responses from the political sphere. Tax evasion was considered a serious and pressing problem that needs to be tackled. The dedicated committee was set up for inquiry. Raids and investigations were carried out in several countries including Mossack Fonseca's headquarters in Panama. The banks were instructed to hand over all their data on business dealings with the firm. It besmirched the reputation of politicians and particularly people holding high positions in government came under tremendous pressure. The protesters hit the streets and there were demonstrations outside the government offices. Due to the Panama Paper leaks, around 6000 individuals and companies were under investigation worldwide. A large number of clients have fled Mossack Fonseca and switched to competitor offshore companies. The leak obviously had a deleterious effect on the company, who started it all. Due to the damage that is done to their finance and reputation, Mossack Fonseca closed down in 2018, after 41 years in the business.
The country which has been at the receiving end is Panama. There was a time when a huge proportion of drugs used to pass through it. It was notorious for the same reason and was called narcokleptocracy, a term coined by a former presidential candidate John Kerry. It has emerged out of the uncertain past but the dishonesty and illegal tag refuse to go. There has been an allegation that the country is filled with dishonest lawyers, dishonest bankers, dishonest company formation agents, and dishonest companies. It’s an attractive destination for money laundering and had become a hub for shenanigans.
It’s a neo-feudal concentration of wealth, where a small group of rich people is not only hiding their money and avoiding taxes but also evading the law. There are dozens of companies worldwide that specialize in selling shell companies. In the tax havens, you simply cannot set up shell companies yourself and would need a registered agent, who would prepare all the paperwork required by the local authorities and looks after the payment of the annual fee. As mentioned before, most of these companies do not directly interact with the intermediaries. At least, that’s what most of these companies claim but it’s not always the case. Usually, the official address of the shell companies is the same as that of the registered agent. When you have a shell company, you don’t want it in countries like London, New York or Paris. The authorities can easily find out who owns it if they really want to. Instead, you need a tax haven and usually, it’s based out in small countries with a great deal of banking secrecy and very low non-existent taxes on financial transactions. It’s the secrecy that makes them attractive to tax evaders and crooks the world over. Whether the leak has completely vanquished such activities are debatable. It’s just the tip of the iceberg and difficult to predict any downturn in such a secretive world. Using offshore structures is legal though. There are many legitimate reasons for doing so like protecting it from raids by criminals and get around hard currency restrictions. Other use can be for the reason of inheritance and estate planning.
It’s an exhaustive account of the dirty, unsavory, murkier and opaque world of offshore companies. Despite the leaks and countless articles that followed, it’s still a difficult subject to grasp initially. You need to have a fair bit of understanding and about the modus operandi of these companies. Otherwise, it’s extremely difficult to follow. If you had not studied about the leaks in detail before, then the revelation of some names is still going to surprise you. It breaks your trust too in the system. If you have a basic understanding of the subject matter, then you are going to find it well narrated. Kudos to the author. Beyond that, the German journalist Bastian Obermayer with whom the whistle-blower first connected deserves praise for his dexterity and deft handling of the matter. So is, ICIJ for gathering such a large team from different countries for the project, who followed the necessary protocol of secrecy. Any book that has come out on the subject is the result of piggybacking on the team’s work. The subject matter deviates from what you and I usually read. The content is the king, which makes this book highly recommended
The story starts with the data leak by one John Doe to the now famous Obermayer/maier twins (they are not really twins, only happened have similar names) working with Süddeutsche Zeitung about the transactions of offshore shell companies under the aegis of Mossack Fonseca (Mossfon), the Panamanian law firm. The data flow grew to such an extent that it was found difficult to handle the whole thing by the team at Süddeutsche Zeitung. Therefore the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was roped in and the project Prometheus, the largest ever international collaboration in data journalism, was launched. The project involved nearly 400 journalists from eighty countries and they made meaningful stories from 2.6 TB data leaked by John Doe.
What makes the book so important is that it unravels the offshore dealings of several rich and powerful from different countries to shock the reader that the world is not as (s)he sees. Those linked to the files include Vladimir Putin, Nawaz Sharif, David Cameron, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, among the top political leaders. I was terribly surprised to read son of Kofi Annan, husband of the niece of Deng Xiaoping, etc. linked to the offshore companies. The cases are so large and grave that the 415 names of Indians reportedly found in Panama papers does not figure in the book. Indians are perhaps small fries in the ocean of offshore shell business.
The modus operandi of the rich and corrupt in taking their loot to offshore companies in tax havens becomes very clear once you finish reading. A few suggestions to overcome such evil also find place in the book. But the will to implement that must be with politicians. That is the irony. You cannot expect current politicians to put public good before private good. Overall it is a good read, perhaps a must read for journalists and curious minds.
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The book discusses a super interesting topic in the most boring way. Chapter after chapter, we start with some famous bloke (terrorist, football player, prime minister) who turns out to have shell companies, thus secretly siphoning off money from somewhere. Fascinating? Yes. Will you just skim through pages and pages of irrelevant details by reaching the third of the book? Absolutely.
I also speak German, and for me it seems that the translator did not make much effort to “anglicise” the wording. So you will end up reading, and re-reading, long, convoluted sentences, like this actual example: “It was X Y who offered Z clients the ‘nominee beneficial owner’ on ‘natural person nominee’ service mentioned earlier in this book and sent them the relevant dcoumentation, in other words offering them the services of a real person who, in dealings with banks and others, passes himself off as the owner of the company in place of the actual owner, thereby making a mockery of anti-money laundering measures.”
Yes, this was a single sentence, far not the worst one, and yes, you will wonder how many commas, semicolons, full stops etc. are missing and what did the editor do for the money. You will also find hundreds of footnotes; and again, by the middle of the book you won’t even make an effort to check them - as there is _nothing_ to gain. Approx. 99% of those will tell you, with the exact same wording, that ‘At the time of going to press, X Y had not responded to a request for comment’.
I’m not saying one should ‘dumb down’ a complex subject, but trying, and failing, to use ‘advanced’ words, and writing an academic paper instead of a book simply makes no sense to me. Such a waste, as the tax avoidance phenomenon and this investigation should be taught to people at all levels - but all this book will do is deter anyone from trying to understand how the execs and politicians are gambling away their money.
So, from a process perspective it provides real insight but from a substantive feel for the pervasiveness of one law firm in the interaction with global elites there is much to show too. The felling of multiple heads of state (with reverberations continuing in Pakistan) makes the Panama Papers worthy of global renown but the questions about who and why they leaked remain.
One thing is for sure - there will be more data dumps and if the authors are involved again the level of professionalism should be maintained.