The name Mossack Fonseca, evocative of an arch Bollywood villain, broke like a thunderclap over many world capitals on Monday as a treasure trove of documents pointing to illicit foreign holdings, slush money, and corruption involving scores of world leaders, tycoons and celebrities was leaked anonymously through a union of global investigative journalists.
Leaders in Moscow ( Vladimir Putin) and Beijing ( Xi JinPing) among major powers, Pakistan (Nawaz Sharif) and Iceland ( Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson) among lesser powers, and familiar suspects such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, were named and shamed. Notable exceptions to the list of crooked leaders included US President Obama and India’s PM Narendra Modi.
Nepotism coursed through the expose with Nawaz Sharif ‘s daughter Maryam Nawaz, Li Xiaolin, daughter of former Chinese PM Li Peng, Mohd Nazifuddin Najib, son of Malaysian PM Najib Razak, Clive Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of South Africa President Jacob Zuma, and Kojo Annan, son of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, featuring in the expose.
Although graft, kleptocracy and nepotism is not new to most countries, the responses were predictable: It was all a grand conspiracy to undermine them and their countries. Why are there no leaders from the West except from Iceland was a question that erupted in several forums after the Panama-based law firm and corporate services provider itself withdrew into a shell after asserting its operations were above board and broke no law.
Russia’s government has dismissed Mossack Fonseca reports as unfounded and based on “Putinophobia” while 10 Downing Street refused to comment on information in the files which showed that British PM David Cameron’s father, Ian, used offshore techniques to avoid paying UK tax. The PM’s family said their investments were a “private matter”. Iceland’s PM Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson announced on live TV that he will not be resigning.
Conspiracy theorists dubbed it a “CIA false flag operations”, pointing to the absence of any American in the list, and maintaining that the real corruption lay in NATO and the UN.
But who leaked the documents and what did they hope to gain from it? According to the ICIJ, the lead for the leak came in late 2014 when an unknown source reached out to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which had reported previously on a smaller leak of Mossack Fonseca files to German government regulators. The source reportedly contacted Suddeutsche Zeitung reporter Bastian Oberway via encrypted chat offering some sort of data intended “to make these crimes public”.