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11.5M files expose offshore schemes in biggest data leak in history

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When it comes to data breaches, it seems nothing can surprise us: we’ve seen huge corporations face public shaming for lax security and for exposing data of millions of customers. But the recent Panama Papers breach tops it all.


Source: Wikipedia

The breach involves millions of files that reveal a complex tax evasion system involving some of the richest and most powerful people in the world.

Here are the astonishing numbers:

2.6T data exposed

The disclosed files belong to Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm and corporate service provider that helps companies hide money in offshore jurisdictions. The “tight-lipped” industry leader in offshore finance, as described by the Economist, stores documents from about 214,488 offshore entities.

The company announced its customers of the breach on April’s Fools Day:


Source: Twitter

Some of the papers are uploaded here.


The data reveals that 12 national leaders including monarchs, presidents and prime ministers, and other very influential people have been using offshore tax havens to cut huge tax bills, guard their privacy and gain easy access to their funds.

140 of the offshore firms named in the leaked documents are connected to public officials or politicians.

Biggest names:

  • Vladimir Putin – involved in $2B worth of offshore accounts
  • Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan
  • Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko
  • Icelandic prime minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson,
  • A member of Fifa’s ethics committee

Fusion, one of the 100 media organizations that investigated the files, also mentions “drug dealers, arms traders, human traffickers, fraudsters.”

More details about the names on Wikipedia.


214,000 companies were registered in a range of tax havens. The British Virgin Islands held more than 100,000 companies, according to the Guardian.


Source: The Guardian

A detailed map of the countries and companies involved can be found here.


Biggest leak in the history of data journalism just went live, and it’s about corruption,” Edward Snowden tweeted when the scandal broke.

Although offshore companies are not illegal, the breach raises questions over the ethics of using tax havens.

“Panamanian law firms will go under scrutiny,” a Reddit user says. “Although it is 100% legal to put your funds offshore, now firms will have to change some policies. They will be more careful about how they handle information, and they will investigate more thoroughly their clients. Some firms might even loose, voluntarily, sketchy clients to save themselves from the bad press.”

The contents were leaked by an anonymous insider to German newspaper Sudddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and this list of partners. The investigation was published on Sunday by more than 100 news organizations around the globe.

Update: tax authorities in Australia and New Zealand are probing local clients of a Panama-based law firm at the center of a massive data leak for possible tax evasion.

British Prime Minister David Cameron appears linked to “Panama Papers” by his late father Ian Cameron, who used Mossack Fonseca’s services to shield his investment fund, Blairmore Holdings Inc.

About the author

Alexandra GHEORGHE

Alexandra started writing about IT at the dawn of the decade - when an iPad was an eye-injury patch, we were minus Google+ and we all had Jobs. She has since wielded her background in PR and marketing communications to translate binary code to colorful stories that have been known to wear out readers' mouse scrolls. Alexandra is also a social media enthusiast who 'likes' only what she likes and LOLs only when she laughs out loud.