A new leak of data from the embattled law firm Mossack Fonseca shows it scrambling to contain the crisis triggered by the April 2016 leak of the Panama Papers and attempting to field demands for information from authorities in numerous countries — with the glaring exception of the United States.
April 19, 2018
Anonymous shell companies make it extremely easy for corrupt and criminal actors both here and around the world, not to mention tax evaders, to hide and launder illicit wealth. From the Panama Papers to the Magnitsky scandal, the world is hearing more and more about this problem. As April marks the two-year anniversary of the release of the Panama Papers, it is important to reflect on what progress has been made to date in the United States to tackle anonymous ownership.
Two years ago we published the Panama Papers after an anonymous source provided 2.6 terabytes of internal data from the dubious Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca. We shared the data with 400 journalists worldwide and together revealed how the wealthy and powerful use shell companies to hide their assets. Such companies are exploited by dictators, drug cartels, mafia clans, fraudsters, weapons dealers and regimes like North Korea and Iran to hide their shady business transactions.
The release of the Paradise Papers has once again brought the issue of offshore tax avoidance to the forefront of public discussion. The papers expose the complex structures that companies such as Apple and Nike have pursued in recent years to pay little to nothing in taxes on their offshore earnings.
Yet even as these revelations make headlines, House Republicans are moving forward with major tax legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that would reward the worst tax avoiders and make it even easier for multinational companies to avoid taxes.
How Prime Minister Sharif’s Family Used Anonymous Companies
Over a year on and the effect of the Panama Papers continues to reverberate.
Last week, the leaks claimed another political scalp: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office. The leaks showed how Sharif and his children were linked to prestigious Park Lane apartments in London through a complex web of anonymously owned British Virgin Island (BVI) companies.
Over the past several decades, anonymous shell companies have been at the heart of heinous crimes, including cases of grand corruption, human trafficking, and even the facilitation of the opioid epidemic. Didier Jacobs of Oxfam America highlighted some of the blights of anonymous companies in a recent blog. In it, he describes how drug lords, corrupt politicians, and human traffickers are able to perform illegal acts while hidden from justice by a veil of anonymity. With shielded identities, criminals can effectively function above the law.