In what’s being described as “the world’s biggest leak”, the details of offshore accounts of world leaders, celebrities, and power players have been divulged. On the list are Xi Jinping, Nawaz Sharif, Lionel Messi and 500 Indians including film stars and well-known industrialists.
Here are 10 points:
The offshore accounts are based on documents from a law firm named Mossack Fonseca, which is in Panama. It has described the release of information as “an international campaign against privacy”.
More than 100 media groups – including The Indian Express- collaborated in the investigation and combed through emails, financial records and passport details.
What they have found in many cases are how some of the world’s most powerful people used offshore havens to conceal their fortunes and dodge taxes. Often, this is done through shell companies, initially incorporated without significant assets or operations, to disguise ownership or other information about the funds involved.
But not all offshore dealings are illegal. Companies or trusts can be set up in offshore law-tax places like Panama for legitimate uses such as business finance, mergers and acquisitions and estate or tax planning.
The Indian Express says its eight-month investigation of over 36,000 files has revealed around 500 Indian names linked to the Panama law firms whose records were hacked. The newspaper lists some of the country’s biggest film stars and billionaires.
It was only in 2013 that Indians were permitted to set up companies abroad. Some of the people and corporates named by the Express allegedly routed money to these offshore ventures much before that.
The government is under significant pressure to reveal and recover black or untaxed money, a promise stressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his election campaign. The Supreme Court is monitoring the findings of a Special Investigating Team or SIT of experts.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has repeatedly said that while the guilty will be punished, India’s tax treaties with countries like Switzerland prohibit the government from revealing names till an advanced stage of investigation.
A dozen current or former heads of state are named in the Panama Papers, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the king of Saudi Arabia.
The investigations allege close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is not himself named in the documents, “secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies”.