In one of the largest leaks in history, the Panama Papers have exposed that hundreds of public figures, celebrities, athletes and billionaires are reportedly clients of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which, according to the papers, has been known to set up shell companies to hide money. The law firm also sets up legitimate offshore accounts, which are widely used for business reasons, for many of its clients. Although having an offshore account isn’t illegal, it can be if it’s used improperly. Russian president Vladimir Putin, actor Jackie Chan and soccer star Lionel Messi are just a few of the notable names associated with the leaked files.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) worked with more than 100 media outlets to examine the 11.5 million files from Mossack Fonseca that span nearly 40 years after an anonymous source leaked the documents to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. According to ICIJ, the data leak connects 140 politicians from more than 50 countries to the law firm.
Twelve former and current world leaders, including Argentina’s president,Mauricio Macri, and Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, have been directly linked to offshore accounts managed by the law firm. Per ICIJ, the files also contain information about offshore dealings by the late father of British prime minister David Cameron.
The secret records further reveal an entire money trail allegedly tied to Putin, and the “clandestine network operated by Putin associates … has shuffled at least $2 billion through banks and offshore companies,” according to the ICIJ. Some of Putin’s close friends, such as Sergei Roldugin and Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, are reportedly listed as the owners of these shell companies.
Movie star Jackie Chan’s name also pops up in the papers. The docs reveal he has at least six companies managed by Mossack Fonseca, but ICIJ says that “as with many of Mossack Fonseca’s clients,” there is no evidence he used the companies for illegal purposes.
The law firm seems to be popular among professional athletes as well. Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi and his father also own a Panama shell company, Mega Star Enterprises Inc. Per ICIJ, nearly 20 high-profile soccer players and at least 11 retired National Hockey League players used Mossack Fonseca’s services. Another athlete named in the records: Nick Faldo, one of the top golfers of all time, who reportedly owned an offshore company from 2006 until 2008. (A spokesperson for Faldo declined comment to the ICIJ.) At least four other professional golfers’ names also appear in the docs.
Even after naming countless politicians and public figures, the ICIJ isn’t done yet. They announced they will release a full list of companies and people linked to the financial records in early May. “It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world — providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues,” the ICIJ wrote.
Meanwhile, Mossack Fonseca maintains that the company has done nothing wrong and the services they provide are commonly used worldwide. The law firm responded to the allegations in a statement to the ICIJ and said it “does not foster or promote illegal acts. Your allegations that we provide shareholders with structures supposedly designed to hide the identity of real owners are completely unsupported and false.”
“For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations. Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing. However, we are legally and practically limited in our ability to regulate the use of the companies we incorporate or to which we provide other services. We are not involved in managing our clients’ companies,” the statement continued. “We regret any misuse of our services and actively take steps to prevent it.” See Mossack Fonseca’s full statement here.