Yesterday came to light, thanks to a collaboration between the ICIJ and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a very disturbing information about a net of corruption involving world leaders, businessmen and sports institutions having dubious accounts a recognized Central American country.

The Panama Papers are 11.5 million documents that were leaked by a handful of journalists, exposing clients from around the world related to arms deals, bribery, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking.

Panama Papers is the most impressive investigation on offshore heavens that has ever been exposed. Credit: The Guardian.

Vladimir Putin’s associates, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson – Iceland’s Prime Minister, Mauricio Macri – President of Argentina, Petro Poroshenko – Ukranian President- and Lionel Messi are some of the famous international figures tied to this scandal. Russian president’s associates, for instance, managed to move secretly as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies, according to ICIJ.

The smell of luxury yachts is like the smell of luxury law firms

In the heart of this massive offshore leak is a Panamanian firm of lawyers called Mossack Fonseca. Established in Panama more than four decades ago, the firm started to sound as a synonym of corruption in the annals of the offshore system. However, no matter how famous or unknown its clients are, the firm is aggressive in protecting them reportedly engaging in backdating documents or removing paper records with the help of wiping hackers, from its Las Vegas branch.

The Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca has erected an intricate global network of shell companies. his network relies on shell companies in Nevada, nominally controlled by shell companies in the Seychelles, set up at the request of lawyers around the world who ultimately work for the Panamanian headquarters. Credit: Fact Check Argentina

“[Mossack Fonseca] does not foster or promote illegal acts. Your allegations that we provide shareholders with structures supposedly designed to hide the identity of the real owners are completely unsupported and false.” reads a written response from the firm to the questions of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Involved in shady businesses like African diamonds, Brazilian corruption, international art markets and other secretive endeavors, Mossack Fonseca has worked with more than 500 banks, their subsidiaries and branches since the 1970s, according to an ICIJ analysis of the leaked files.

Companies, foundations, and trusts were set up with the help of the firm and numerous banks, company incorporators and middlemen whom, according to Mosseck Fonseca, are their true clients. Middle East’s royalty is also involved with the firm.

Mossack Fonseca co-founder Jürgen Mossack. Credit: ICIJ

German Reporters at Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained millions of records from a confidential source and shared them with ICIJ and other media partners.

Apart from the scandal involving 72 current or former heads of state, Messi, and others, this leak was possible with the collaboration of journalists and reporters in different latitudes and from different organizations. This might be the biggest collaboration ever: hundreds of journalists, from 78 countries have spent a year working on this and there is more, according to Quartz.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung acquired about 2.6 terabytes of data, through an anonymous source. The Munich-based newspaper has an investigative journalism team formed by five people, some of them members of the ICIJ. In this sense, both organizations worked together on the data and then teams from the Guardian, the BBC, Le Monde and La Nación joined the investigation.

The files include 11.5 million records since the start of Mossack Fonseca operations detailing more than 214,000 offshore entities in more than 200 countries and territories. People and companies, blacklisted by the U.S government, related to drug businesses, terrorism, Syria and North Korea, appear in the documents. Moreover, HSBS, UBS, and Société Générale are some of the banks involved in the creation of hard-to-trade companies in tax heavens in collaboration with Mosseck Fonseca.

Source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists