The Panama Papers: Showing that investigative journalism can change the world

The impact of the Panama Papers data leak has continued to snowball around the world.

The investigation into the activities of Panama lawyers Mossack Fonseca has involved 109 news organisations around the world, including the BBC and Guardian, with more than 400 journalists having access to more than 11m documents dating back 40 years.

They were leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung by an unknown anonymous source who said they were acting because "I want to make these crimes public". The project has been coordinated by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The latest consequences of the investigation include the following:

  • In the UK David Cameron has revealed that he and his wife sold shares in an offshore investment fund worth £31,500 four months before he became Prime Minister
     
  • Pierre Moscovici, who heads financial affairs for the EU, has threatened to sanction Panama and other nations if they do not cooperate fully to fight money laundering and tax evasion
     
  • Vladamir Putin has hit out over the investigation over it revealed nearly $2bn has been channeled to a network of people close to him. He sad: "They [the US] are trying to destabilise us from within in order to make us more compliant. I would reject the premise or the assertion that we're in any way involved in the actual leak of these documents."
     
  • An Argentine prosecutor has asked for an investigation into President Mauricio Macri's role in offshore companies
     
  • The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has told 20 banks and businesses that they have until 15 April to investigate whether they have ties to Mossack Fonseca or firms which are managed by the company
     
  • Iceland's president has already resigned after it emerged that he and his wife co-owned a company set up in the British Virgin Islands
     
  • Revelations from the documents have also led Swiss police to raid the offices of football governing body Fifa after it was revealed that it sold football rights at a knock-down rate to two businessmen implicated in corruption.

Some have argued that journalists should make all the documents public in the way that Wikileaks has done when it has handled huge data leaks.

But the German title at the heart of this investigation has declined to do so.

It said: "Süddeutsche Zeitung is not working for public prosecutors or tax collectors. Public prosecutors or investigators already today have the right to confiscate data in Germany or abroad if they have a reasonable suspicion.

"SZ is published under German jurisdiction and therefore will not publish all names which can be found. Many companies or private citizens don't fulfil the necessary legal requirements to be named. Before going public we have to establish a case for justifiable public interest."

In an interview with Politico, Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Frederik Obermaier was asked what he would like readers to take away from the story.

He said: "Personally, I would say this leak showed again that nobody who is hiding his wrongdoing in the offshore world can feel safe. Who knows which other whistleblowers are out there?

"For us, we are a pretty big newspaper in Germany but on a global perspective we are a small newspaper. It was important to show potential whistleblowers out there that we are able to deal with this material, in a secure and responsible way, protecting our sources but at the same time being able to bring our investigations to the world."

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