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Yesterday, at 2 p.m. Eastern, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a second batch of the “Panama Papers” in a live and searchable (but stripped-down) database of more than 200,000 entities. Many of the activities unveiled in the papers are not illegal but many are, including laundering money, hiding evidence of crimes, avoiding sanctions and tax evasion.
The database includes information on Americans tied to financial misconduct. NBC News, an ICIJ partner, has a site dedicated to its analysis of the developing stories related to the Panama Papers.
You can search the database yourself here. Time was limited to compose this post, but if you limit your search to the United States and you search on “Esq” and “law firm,” you will find some of the lawyers and firms referenced in the database. I am sure someone is walking down a long list of law firms (see below). Certainly, many Americans and American companies are included. A common search across all countries is “legal.”
“ICIJ is publishing the information in the public interest,” said Marina Walker Guevara, the ICIJ’s deputy director. The data comes from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and covers information about nearly 214,000 offshore entities, companies, trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 tax havens, from Hong Kong to Nevada in the United States. Walker said the data made available Monday represents a fraction of the Panama Papers, a trove of more than 11.5 million leaked files from Mossack Fonseca, which she called “one of the world’s top creators of hard-to-trace companies, trusts and foundations.”
The database is the largest release of information about secret offshore companies and the people behind them, called “beneficial owners,” whose identities are hidden from public scrutiny.
ICIJ is not disclosing raw documents or personal information such as bank accounts, e-mail exchanges and financial transactions, Walker said. As she added, the database does contain “a great deal of information about company owners, proxies and intermediaries in secrecy jurisdictions,” including, when available, “the names of the real owners of those opaque structures.”
The anonymous leaker of the so-called Panama Papers issued a manifesto on May 6th, saying the firestorm of controversy resulting from the leak of 11.5 million documents about offshore tax havens hasn’t triggered enough substantive action or condemnation.
“I decided to expose Mossack Fonseca because I thought its founders, employees and clients should have to answer for their roles in these crimes, only some of which have come to light thus far,” wrote the leaker in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper that received the documents last year and then shared them with the ICIJ.
The leaker also said, “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.”
According to another NBC article, the IRS has told Americans to come clean before it reads the Panama Papers, which it will use to bolster current investigations and to initiate new ones. The Guardian had previously reported that President Obama has called for international tax reform — and that the Department of Justice is also examining the Panama Papers for evidence of wrongdoing.
While illegal activities will no doubt be found, much of the problem is that sheltering money from taxes is often legal, as President Obama pointed out.
This morning The American Lawyer (sub.req.) updated its story, “Dozens of Big Firms to Appear in New ‘Panama Papers’ Database,” listing more than 30 current and former Am Law 200 and Global 100 law firms, along with a long list of other U.S. and global firms that appear in the ICIJ database. Today’s “Second Tranche of Offshore Docs Reveals More Big Firms,” lists several more. (Ed. Note: Click over to RTL for a list of those law firms.)
The ICIJ noted in a disclaimer that there are “legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts” and that it does not “intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”
This is going to be a “drip, drip, drip” story as journalists seek to connect the dots. There is no doubt that a lot of law firms and other companies are having a miserable day today.
Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) is nationally known as an expert in digital forensics, information security and information technology. Along with John Simek she heads Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm based in Fairfax, VA. Popular speakers and authors, they have written several books, including “The 2008-2015 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.” Sharon blogs at Ride the Lightning and co-hosts the Digital Detectives podcast.
Ed. Note: This special report appears today on Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning blog. Be sure to click over to RTL for updates on the unfolding Panama Papers story.
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