The Washington, DC-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released a database of the so-called Panama Papers - information leaked primarily from Mossack Fonseca, one of the world's leading global law firms providing services of incorporation of offshore entities and headquartered in Panama. The leak is the largest ever of offshore financial records and contains about 11.5 million legal and financial records dating back more than 40 years. The files expose more than 213,000 offshore entities created in 21 jurisdictions, stripping away the secrecy from the offshore holdings of 238,000 people from 200 countries, including 140 politicians and public officials.
The Panama Papers came to be in late-2014 when an anonymous source transferred more than 2.6 terabytes of data from Mossack Fonseca - including documents, electronic spreadsheets, and letters - to reporters at the German newspaper Süeddeustche Zeitung. Since the data received by the newspaper were raw reports and not a standardized registry, the newspaper asked the ICIJ to organize a global collaborative to analyze the files.
The combined effort of more than 370 reporters from around the world allowed for the creation of a structured database which is convenient to use for analysis of the leaked data. The database covers only a portion of the leaked records, avoiding disclosure of personally identifying information related to bank accounts, emails, and financial transactions.
The data indicates that Mossack Fonseca collaborated with more than 14,000 intermediaries - usually banks, law-firms or middlemen going between those seeking an offshore firm and a provider of offshore services. Most of the intermediaries (about 38%) operated in Hong Kong, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. With the help of this broad network of go-betweens, Mossack Fonseca set up more than 213,000 companies, trusts and foundations for its customers. However, the records show that since 2011 clients of the law firm have been rapidly deactivating their offshore entities. Thus, during the last four years the number of incorporated offshore companies declined by almost 50 percent. This is partly due to the fact that offshore companies as a rule are active for only a short period of time.
Among 21 offshore jurisdictions, the most popular is the British Virgin Islands, home to almost a half of all entities captured in the dataset. The second most favorable tax haven is Panama, accounting for 48,373 incorporations. For more information, visit the ICIJ official Offshore Leaks Database website.