ICIJ · The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

The Panama Papers Reading List

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Panama Papers Wins Pulitzer Prize

The honor is a testament to the enterprise and teamwork of our staff and our partners here in the U.S. and around the world, ICIJ's director says.

Awards and recognition

The Panama Papers project, led by ICIJ and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung working in collaboration with more than 100 media outlets, has been honored with awards and finalist mentions by more than a dozen major international prizes, including:

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Where Are They Now? A Year Later, Mixed Fortunes For Panama Papers Line-Up

One year after the Panama Papers first became an international catchphrase, here’s a globe-hopping update on the people and institutions caught up in the scandal.

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VIDEO: Twelve Months of Investigations, Impact and Outrage

A year ago the Panama Papers dominated newspaper headlines and brought now-iconic images to TV screens around the world. Since then, investigations have continued and outrage has grown.

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Panama Prosecutor Claims 'Solid Case' Against Mossack Fonseca

The law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers affair, sold shell companies and held bank accounts that were used to help conceal bribes paid across South America, a Panamanian prosecutor alleged at a press conference.

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Founders of Panama Papers Law Firm Arrested on Money Laundering Charges

Police in Panama arrested the founders of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers scandal, on money laundering charges Thursday after authorities raided the firm’s headquarters as part of investigations into Brazil’s largest-ever bribery scandal.

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Tax Agencies Draw Up ‘Target List’ of Offshore Enablers

Tax agencies from 30 countries convened in Paris this week to take part in the largest ever simultaneous exchange of tax information and to share results and details on thousands of investigations sparked by the Panama Papers.

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Panama’s Revolving Door Shows Global Challenge of Offshore Reform

In a country where top-drawer lawyers move freely between high government posts and law firms selling secrecy-cloaked shell companies, bringing lasting change to the offshore industry is a challenge.

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Journalists Hang Tough in Face of Backlash Against Panama Papers Reporting

Reporters have faced consequences both in nations where media crackdowns are common and also in nations with reputations for high levels of press freedom.

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Panama Papers Have Had Historic Global Effects — and the Impacts Keep Coming

The investigation has produced an almost daily drumbeat of regulatory moves, follow-up stories and calls by politicians and activists for more action to combat offshore financial secrecy.

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BVI Hits Mossack Fonseca With Largest Fine Ever After Panama Papers Investigation

The $440,000 penalty followed a six-month investigation which included on-site compliance inspections and the appointment of an officer to monitor Mossack Fonseca's operations.

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Experts Who Quit Panama's Transparency Commission Produce Their Own Report

Report's authors say that the U.S. and EU have the power to force other nations to embrace transparency reforms by threatening to cut off access to their financial systems.

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Pakistan's PM Responds to Supreme Court Hearing on Panama Papers

Nawaz Sharif defended himself before the nation’s highest court, as opposition supporters celebrated in Islamabad.

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Panama Hires PR Firm Amid Ongoing Panama Papers Fallout

A PR firm is being paid $50,000 a month to help the Panama government, while arrests, protests and more continue around the world.

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Hedge Fund Sues Mossack Fonseca For Alleged Obstruction of Justice in Nevada

Confidential emails revealed in the Panama Papers have opened a new front in a bitter court battle in Nevada involving a hedge fund led by an American billionaire, new court filings show.

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Experts Quit Panama's Transparency Committee Over Lack of Transparency

The committee was established in the wake of the Panama Papers to probe Panama's financial services industry, but now two out of three international members have resigned.

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Continent of Secrets: Uncovering Africa's Offshore Empires

Africa receives $50 billion of foreign aid money annually, but then loses roughly the same amount through illicit outflows. Can you uncover Africa's offshore empires? Play now!

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Secret Offshore Deals Deprive Africa of Billions in Natural Resource Dollars

The Panama Papers show how politicians and mining, oil and gas interests benefit from secrecy and dubious multimillion dollar transfers.

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Secret Documents Expose Nigerian Oil Mogul’s Offshore Hideaways

A dealmaker’s backstage maneuverings are revealed in the Panama Papers as he hung with celebrities while criminal investigators closed in.

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Diamond Mine with Offshore Ties Leaves Trail of Complaints

The Panama Papers reveal a network of shell companies linked to a mining operation that has been accused of environmental harms and unpaid taxes.

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Out of Africa, Into Tax Havens

As visitors come to see what’s in Africa, some safari operators’ profits head offshore.

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Reporters Warned, Inquiries Opened as African Nations Respond to Panama Papers

Mossack Fonseca targeted clients in Africa for business, but now some of those clients have become targets themselves as authorities launch investigations into the Panama Papers revelations.

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Panama Papers Credited As New EU Anti Money-Laundering And Tax Abuse Rules Proposed

The European Commission has announced it will tighten the European Union’s anti-money laundering rules and increase transparency requirements for companies and trusts.

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Venezuela and Panama To Launch Joint Panama Papers Investigation

The joint investigation will be the "first of its kind," and Venezuela's attorney general has hinted at a long list of suspects.

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European Inquiry to Call UK Chancellor, Mossack Fonseca to Testify

A special 65-member Panama Papers committee of inquiry has been created by the European parliament to investigate potential wrongdoing exposed by ICIJ's investigation.

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Mossack Fonseca's US Operations Under Pressure, Island Offices Closed

Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca’s local affiliate in Nevada has resigned from more than 1,000 companies and paid a penalty to the state amid investigations on multiple fronts.

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US States Under Pressure As World Pushes For Financial Transparency

Nevada, Wyoming and Delaware are facing growing pressure over their lack of corporate transparency, as the United States and the international community continue to respond to fallout from the Panama Papers.

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The Malefactors of Mossack Fonseca

Meet The Dutchman, the Queen of the South, the Boss of Bosses and other convicted felons and alleged wrongdoers who have benefited from services provided by the law firm.

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Panama Papers Include Dozens of Americans Tied to Fraud and Financial Misconduct

Mossack Fonseca's files include offshore companies linked to at least 36 Americans accused of serious financial wrongdoing, including fraud and racketeering.

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Beyond Panama: Unlocking the world’s secrecy jurisdictions

The 21 jurisdictions covered by the Panama Papers data vary from the rolling hills of Wyoming to tropical getaways like the British Virgin Islands. But all have at least one thing in common - secrecy is the rule.

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Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come

The anonymous whistleblower behind the Panama Papers has conditionally offered to make the documents available to government authorities.

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US Officials React to Panama Papers Disclosures With Get-Tough Proposals

The Obama administration has proposed a national registry documenting the real owners of shell companies and other measures aimed at fighting offshore chicanery.

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Iceland’s First Lady Linked to Offshore Investments

Records in the Panama Papers and the Swiss Leaks leaked files tie the wife of Iceland President Ólafur Grímsson to offshore companies and accounts.

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Coming Soon: ICIJ to Release Panama Papers Offshore Companies Data

The database, to be released on May 9, will likely be the largest ever release of secret offshore companies and the people behind them.

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Cartel-Linked Suspects Arrested After Panama Papers Revelations

Uruguayan prosecutors are seeking to bring to trial at least five individuals detained on suspicion of laundering money for a powerful Mexican drug cartel.

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US Prosecutor Opens Investigation Into 'Panama Papers Matters'

ICIJ welcomes the interest from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office, but has made it clear it won't be turning over its data or taking part in any investigation.

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Banks Ordered to Provide Info on Panama Dealings to NY Regulator

More than a dozen banks identified in the Panama Papers investigation have been asked to hand over details of their communications with Mossack Fonseca.

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Art held offshore

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Pakistan's PM Leaves Country, Spanish Minister Resigns

Nawaz Sharif faces growing pressure and calls for his resignation, a Spanish minister has stepped aside, and more governments are pledging reform as fallout from the Panama Papers revelations continues.

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Panama Police Raid Mossack Fonseca As Global Fallout Continues

The search of Mossack Fonseca's Panama headquarters comes after a number of raids and official action taken in response to the Panama Papers revelations.

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Global joint investigation to be proposed at special tax meeting

Tax officials from 28 nations met in Paris to develop a strategy for collaborative action based on Panama Papers revelations.

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British PM Announces New Transparency Measures Following Panama Papers Revelations

David Cameron appeared before parliament on Monday to address concerns about his own links to offshore holdings revealed in the Panama Papers, as well as announce reform aimed at boosting transparency.

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The Art of Secrecy

Locked in the files of a Panama law firm are the answers to mysteries involving Van Goghs, Picassos, Rembrandts and other masterworks.

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Panama Papers Spark High-Level FIFA Resignation and Swiss Police Raid

Swiss police searched the office of Europe's top soccer association and a member of FIFA's ethics panel resigned following Panama Papers revelations.

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Leaked Files Offer Many Clues To Offshore Dealings by Top Chinese

Eight current and former members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the country's top decision makers, have relatives with secret offshore companies.

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Spies and Shadowy Allies Lurk in Secret With Help From Offshore Firm

Firm helps CIA operatives and other characters — real or fanciful — from the world of espionage set up offshore companies to obscure their dealings.

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Iceland Prime Minister Tenders Resignation Following Panama Papers Revelations

The prime minister of Iceland said he would resign following mass protests triggered by reports from ICIJ and partners that he had owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands with his wife.

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Law Firm’s Files Include Dozens of Companies and People Blacklisted by U.S. Authorities

Global law firm’s customers include suspected financiers of terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferators and gunrunners.

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How Family that Runs Azerbaijan Built an Empire of Hidden Wealth

Documents peel away three layers of secret ownership in a conglomerate and lead to gold mines and overseas real estate.

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Global Banks Team with Law Firms To Help the Wealthy Hide Assets

Leaked records show that hundreds of banks and their subsidiaries and branches registered nearly 15,600 shell companies.

About this project

The Panama Papers is an unprecedented investigation that reveals the offshore links of some of the globe’s most prominent figures.

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All Putin’s Men: Secret Records Reveal Money Network Tied to Russian Leader

Complex offshore financial deals channel money and power towards a network of people and companies linked to President Vladimir Putin.

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Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption

Millions of documents show heads of state, criminals and celebrities using secret hideaways in tax havens.

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Panamanian Law Firm Is Gatekeeper To Vast Flow of Murky Offshore Secrets

Files show client roster that includes drug dealers, Mafia members, corrupt politicians and tax evaders — and wrongdoing galore.

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Leak Ties Ethics Guru to Three Men Charged in FIFA Scandal

Secret documents show how deeply the world of soccer has become enmeshed in the world of offshore havens.

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Iceland’s Prime Minister Ducks Question But the Answer Catches Up with Him

He came to power after the country’s financial collapse while hiding his offshore holdings of millions in bonds from Icelandic banks.

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How the One Percenters Divorce: Offshore Intrigue Plays Hide and Seek with Millions

Firm that practices no matrimonial law nonetheless plays big role when the superrich around the globe decide to split.

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Beyond Panama: Unlocking the world’s secrecy jurisdictions

The publication of the Panama Papers companies data reveals new details about offshore entities usually kept hidden from the public in jurisdictions known for secrecy and opacity

By

The 21 jurisdictions covered by the Panama Papers data vary from the rolling hills of Wyoming to the bustling streets of London to tropical getaways like the British Virgin Islands. But all have at least one thing in common: secrecy is the rule.

Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca has, for almost 40 years, specialized in registering companies on behalf of clients in jurisdictions that make little information available about who is really behind a company name. Among them are the more commonly-known secrecy jurisdictions like Panama, Jersey, the Bahamas and the Seychelles. But the law firm also helped clients incorporate in places not commonly associated with “offshore” finance, like the United Kingdom and U.S. states Delaware, Wyoming and Nevada.

More than 50 percent of the offshore entities in the data obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations, were set up in Mossack Fonseca’s favored secrecy jurisdiction: the British Virgin Islands.

The BVI is ranked No. 21 in the Tax Justice Network’s 2015 list of the world’s most secretive jurisdictions, but the advocacy group warned the territory’s ranking “seriously understates its true importance in the world of offshore secrecy.” It’s a jurisdiction where companies can be incorporated quickly, cheaply, and with very few questions asked. Company ownership information is not readily available or easily-accessible online.

Among the BVI-registered entities in the Panama Papers data is a company called Wintris Inc. We now know the company was part-owned by the former prime minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Gunnlaugsson and his wife, Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir, purchased Wintris in 2007 from Mossack Fonseca through the Luxembourg branch of Iceland’s Landsbanki, and used the shell company to invest in millions of dollars of Icelandic bank bonds. Gunnlaugsson entered parliament in 2009, but failed to declare the assets held by Wintris. After ICIJ and its media partners revealed his connection to the BVI company on April 3, mass protests erupted outside the parliament building and, barely 48 hours later, Gunnlaugsson announced he was resigning as prime minister.

Before the release of the Panama Papers database, details about the ownership of Wintris were not readily available to the public. The only online information provided by the BVI Registry of Corporate Affairs allows the public to verify official BVI company certificates issued after July 2014. Even so, a certificate number is needed to access this information. A search for the former prime minister of Iceland would have returned no results.

The Panama Papers data includes information on more than 210,000 companies, trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 jurisdictions. The Offshore Leaks data published by ICIJ in 2013 adds more than 100,000 companies in 10 jurisdictions, including the Cook Islands, Cayman Islands, Mauritius and Malaysia, which are not present in the Panama Papers data.

In most cases, the identity of the individuals behind the companies registered in these jurisdictions remains secret. None of these jurisdictions provides information online about the real owners of the companies. A 2011 report by the World Bank studied 40 secrecy jurisdictions and found that “only one—Jersey—requires the beneficial owner to be identified and recorded by a government body.”

Only two jurisdictions of the 21 included in the Panama Papers data give information about the shareholders: New Zealand and Samoa. Even when the shareholders are listed, those could be nominees appointed by the law firm that registered the company.

Secrecy goes even further than hiding the identity of beneficial owners. Four of those 21 jurisdictions (Belize, British Virgin Islands, British Anguilla and Uruguay) don’t have publicly-available records online. In other jurisdictions, the available information will only let you confirm that a company is registered there.

Only seven jurisdictions publicly provide names of company directors or officers. Of the 16 jurisdictions that allow online searches of company names, 14 offer information about the status of a company, 11 provide the registration date, 10 provide an address and four identify the registered agent.

That’s in theory. Then comes practice. Registry websites can be slow and difficult to navigate. Some, like Panama and Costa Rica, require users to set up accounts to login before making a company search. Other jurisdictions don’t provide any company information online, and ask users to instead submit forms in order to access information. In some cases, payment is required to obtain records or certain information.

In British Anguilla, for example, you need to fill in an online form with your name and contact information before you can submit a request about a specific company. You won’t get the information automatically but in an email instead.

“A response should be forecoming [sic] within 24hrs on the status of the company, registration number and date of incorporation only. Additional information will be subject to the relevant fee,” the website reads.

When ICIJ tried to submit a request for a company included in the Panama Papers data, the website returned an error message.

Panama recently made changes to its online corporate registry. Though it is possible to search by company name, in order to access the full set of information it is required a combination of identification numbers connected to the company.

Over a two-week period, ICIJ was only able to successfully access the online Bahamas registry once. Other attempts were met with error messages.

Yet, the information available in corporate registries is clearly of public interest. The Panama Papers revealed that Spain’s Industry Minister, José Manuel Soria, appeared as one of the directors of UK Lines, a company incorporated in the Bahamas in 1990s. Despite his denials that he ever had a connection to an offshore company, Soria resigned on April 15.

Jurisdiction Access Search companies? Address Registration date Status Shareholder Directors
Bahamas Publicly available online registry YesNA NA NA NA NA
Belize No online registry NoNA NA NA NA NA
British Anguilla No online registry NoNA NA NA NA NA
British Virgin Islands No online registry NoNA NA NA NA NA
Costa Rica Online registry, requires login YesNo No Yes No No
Cyprus Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes No Yes
Hong Kong Publicly available online registry YesNo Yes Yes No No
Isle of Man Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes No No
Jersey Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes No No
Malta Publicly available online registry YesYes No Yes No No
Nevada Publicly available online registry YesNo Yes Yes No Yes
New Zealand Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Niue Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes No Yes
Panama Online registry, requires login YesNo Yes Yes No Yes
Ras Al Khaimah No online registry NoNA NA NA NA NA
Samoa Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Seychelles Publicly available online registry YesNo No No No No
Singapore Publicly available online registry YesYes No Yes No No
United Kingdom Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes No Yes
Uruguay No online registry NoNA NA NA NA NA
Wyoming Publicly available online registry YesYes Yes Yes No No

“The problems go far beyond tax,” explains the Tax Justice Network in introduction to its Financial Secrecy Index. “In providing secrecy, the offshore world corrupts and distorts markets and investments, shaping them in ways that have nothing to do with efficiency. The secrecy world creates a criminogenic hothouse for multiple evils including fraud, tax cheating, escape from financial regulations, embezzlement, insider dealing, bribery, money laundering, and plenty more.”

The revelations reignited the debate about the need for public registries in which information about who ultimately controls a company be accessible to all. The UK has made disclosure of beneficial owner data mandatory and public, but British overseas territories such the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, some the busiest offshore havens, have agreed to share that information only when it is requested by law enforcement.

Citing the Panama Papers, the US government also announced Thursday that it has sent legislation to Congress to create a centralized federal registry of the actual owners of any newly created company. The registry would help law enforcement authorities ferret out the real people behind anonymous companies used in money laundering and other wrongdoing.

The governments of Australia and Germany have said that they too intend to create public registries of company owners.

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