The Panama Papers are a leaked set of 11.5 million confidential documents that provide detailed information about more than 214,000 offshore companies listed by the Panamanian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca, including the identities of shareholders and directors of the companies.
The documents show how wealthy individuals, including public officials, hide their money from public scrutiny. At the time of publication, the papers identified five then-heads of state or government leaders from Argentina, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates; as well as government officials, close relatives, and close associates of various heads of government of more than forty other countries, including Brazil, China, France, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Syria, and the United Kingdom. The UK was singled out by the media as being “at the heart of super-rich tax-avoidance network.
Perhaps the simplest thing to say about the “Panama Papers” is something most of us already know: The rich are not like you and me.
The deepening scandal, born from the leak of a vast trove of documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, has inspired a curious mixture of shock and apathy. The documents, which show the extraordinary lengths the global elite have gone to in order to shield their wealth from taxation, are at once big news and old hat. They provide the nasty details of the kind of business most savvy people assume goes on all the time. You and I pay our taxes; the wealthy find ways to avoid them. For some, reading about the Panama Papers will feel like being told by your parents that Santa isn’t real: merely the final confirmation of a suspicion that you have harboured for a very long time. The game is rigged, and unless you are part of the global one percent, it isn’t rigged to help you.