An anonymous source, 11 million leaked documents, and a year-long investigation effort by 400 journalists in over 80 countries have yielded the Panama Papers, an unprecedented look at how the world's rich and powerful, from political leaders to celebrities to criminals, use tax havens to hide their wealth.
The investigation into the dealings of Panamian law firm Mossack Fonseca went live on Sunday afternoon in Europe. It shows that the Royal Bank of Canada was among the institutions that regularly used the services of Mossack Fonseca and set up 370 offshore corporations. Such set ups are not in themselves illegal but are often connected to troublesome transactions.
The Prime Minister of Iceland has already walked out of an interview with The Guardian over questions about his dealings with a family-owned company. "I don't know how these things work," he says before he stands to leave.
There are also revelations about a $2billion offshore trail that leads to Russia's Vladmir Putin. The files show links to 72 current or former heads of state, including secret offshore companies linked to family and associates of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, and Libya’s ex-leader Muammar Gaddafi. The files also indicate the Prime Minister and Pakistan and members of his family have set up at least four offshore operations in the British Virgin Islands.
The Panama Papers are the latest in a series of leaks of internal documents by insiders repelled by what they see going on behind closed doors and global governments' lack of will to attack the problem.
"Courage is contagious," tweeted Edward Snowden about the latest revelations.
The question is whether that same kind of courage can be shown by governments on behalf of the rest of us. There is some movement within the OECD and the G20 to tackle this problem, estimated to cost economies $32trillion. But it has been slow.
"This shows the scourge of the tax haven problem and the global financial industry that feeds on it," says Dennis Howlett, executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness. "Elected officials, celebrities, and the rich and famous are involved - we are starting to get a better idea of why there is so much pushback to change things."
Help us keep fighting tax havens, billion dollar tax evaders and the slow pace of government reform.