News

The Panama Papers Investigation — a special report

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Photo © http://www.democracynow.org

THE Panama Papers project, led by ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung working in collaboration with more than 100 media outlets, has been honored with a “Gold Barlett & Steele Award for Investigative Journalism.”

The award, announced recently by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, recognized the significant impact of the Panama Papers Investigation, which has resulted in the resignation of top officials, police raids, investigations and more since the first stories were published in April this year.

More than 370 journalists worked collaboratively on the investigation, which was based on a trove of 11.5 million leaked files that detailed the inner workings of one of the world’s top offshore company incorporators, Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

“The Panama Papers represents historic and unparalleled global cooperation that remarkably was kept a secret until publication,” said the Barlett & Steele judges.

The Silver Award went to The Wall Street Journal and Bronze to the Los Angeles Times.

The accolade is one of a number of awards and recognitions for the Panama Papers investigation.

ICIJ deputy director Marina Walker Guevara accepted a Perfil Freedom of Expression Award in Argentina on Tuesday evening on behalf of the global reporting team and journalists Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, who received the leaked documents and shared them with ICIJ.

The Perfil Award recognizes people and entities that through their roles in society defend freedom of expression, and previous winners include French magazine Charlie Hebdo and Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who led the investigation into the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden.

* * *

Yes! Leaking of data from a law firm in Panama would be very interesting. 

Many rich people and/or politicians hide money in shell companies that such firms mentioned in the report provide. But the “heavily promoted leak” of such data to several North Atlantic Treaty Organization biased news organization and a U.S. government financed “Non Government Organization” is just a lame attempt to smear some people the U.S. empire dislikes.  It also creates a huge blackmail opportunity by NOT publishing certain data in return for this or that desired favor.

Not too recently, journalist Ken Silverstein reported for Vice, an internet based multi-media organization, about the Panama based Mossak Fonseca, a big shady shell company provider reportedly engaged in money laundering. Curiously, Pierre Omidyar’s Intercept, for which Silverstein was then working, refused to publish the piece.

In his report, Silverstein cited a  well known fact that Rami Makhlouf, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s rich cousin, had some money hidden in Mossak Fonseca shell companies. He explains: “To conduct business, shell companies like Drex need a registered agent, sometimes an attorney; who files the required incorporation papers and whose office usually serves as the shell’s address. This process creates a layer between the shell and its owner, especially if the dummy company is filed in a secrecy haven where ownership information is guarded behind an impenetrable wall of laws and regulations.“

In Makhlouf’s case, the organization that helped incorporate his shell company and shielded it from international scrutiny was a law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which had served as Drex’s registered agent from July 4, 2000, to late 2011.

A year ago an unidentified source provided tons of data from Mossak Fonseca to a Munich based slightly rightist and pro-NATO German newspaper, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The paper collaborates with the Guardian, the BBC, Le Monde, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and some other news organization which are all known supporters of the establishment.

The Sueddeutsche claims that the “leaked” data is about some 214,000 shell companies and 14,000 Mossak Fonseca clients.

There is surely a lot of hidden dirt in there!” an independent journalist-thinker exclaimed.

But when asked for more details, the Sueddeutsche and its partners will not answer those questions.

What is clear, however, is that the data that was compiled includes the lists of important politicians, international criminals, and well-known professional athletes.

Essentially what the Sueddeutsche did is compile a list of known criminals, people and organizations the U.S. dislikes and cross checked them with the “leaked” database. Selected hits were then found and evaluated.

The outcome of the “evaluation,” among others, are stories that smear Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, it must be noted,  is not even mentioned in the Mossak Fonseca data; and the unsubstantiated accusations against some key people in FIFA, an international soccer organization; all of whom are much disliked by the U.S.

Despite the voluminous data, which surely includes American personalities, there is no story about any U.S. persona or NATO politician except that of Iceland Prime Minister David Gunnlaugsson who, together with his wife, owned one of the shell companies. However, there is nothing in that story that shows evidence that the ownership or the money held by PM Gunnlaugsson’s shell company were illegal.

So where is the beef?

As former UK ambassador Craig Murray writes, the beef (if there is any at all) lies in what was hidden by the organizations that managed the “leak.” The filtering of this information conforms to agenda of western government governments. 

For instance, there is no mention at all of the use of Mossack Fonseca by western corporations and billionaires. The London based Guardian newspaper is quick to reassure that”much of the leaked material will remain private.”

What do you expect?

The leak is being managed by the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists” (ICIJ), which is funded and organized entirely by the USA’s Center for Public Integrity (CPI). The CPI funders, on the other hand, include the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Endowment Rockefeller Family Fund. W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Open Society Foundation (Soros).

The ICIJ, it must be mentioned, is part of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project which is financed by the U.S. government through USAID. 

Clearly, the leaked data is selected by U.S. friendly organization out of a database, likely obtained by U.S. secret services, which can be assumed to include much dirt about “western” persons and organizations.

To only publish selected data from a voluminous leak  has two purposes: 1) to smear various “enemies of the empire” even if only by association like the presidents Putin and Assad; and 2) to let other important people, those mentioned in the database but not yet published about, know that the U.S. or its “media partner” can, at any time, expose their dirty laundry to the public. They will have to do as demanded or else…

The Panama Papers is a perfect blackmailing instrument.

Arturo Sampana
Art C. Sampana is a former correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He is a writing fellow at the Likhaan: University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing. His works were published in the Wall Street Journal (Hong Kong and New York Editions), Philippine Daily Express, Inquirer, and Republika among others. He is currently a correspondent of The Manila Times, the country's oldest newspaper.

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