Nick Shaxson ■ Panama Papers: source issues a tax justice document

Countries with politicians, public officials or close associates implicated in the leak. Source: Wikipedia

Countries with politicians, public officials or close associates implicated in the leak. Source: Wikipedia

The source for the “Panama Papers” data leaks, originally via Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, has issued a statement expressing mixed feelings about the world’s reactions to the leaks. It is a devastating statement of tax justice and the main purpose of this blog is really to ensure that our readers are aware of its existence. We’ve put a few comments below, but they are less significant than the statement: just go and read it.

The title of the statement is “The Revolution Will Be Digitized” – suggesting a non-British source (or they would have written “Digitised”) who is a technology fan, which is consistent with stories that it is a hacker — and the source states:

“I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own.”

This is certainly plausible. 

Most significant, perhaps, is the promise to make the data (conditionally) available to governments.

“In the end, thousands of prosecutions could stem from the Panama Papers, if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents. ICIJ and its partner publications have rightly stated that they will not provide them to law enforcement agencies. I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able.”

(And the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ), which collaborated with Süddeutsche Zeitung in co-ordinating the international media response, will be making a controlled searchable public release of some Panama Papers documents tomorrow). Even this won’t be enough, of course. Governments around the world – from Colombia to the United Kingdom – seem to have proved themselves incapable of taking on their élites and actually cracking down on the basis of information received – and the OECD, which is supposed to be the global body cracking down on this stuff, has “had a bad Panama Papers.” As the source states:

“For fifty years, executive, legislative, and judicial branches around the globe have utterly failed to address the metastasizing tax havens spotting Earth’s surface.”

(Metastatising – a cancer-related word we like to use too: it’s very apt, given the race-to-the-bottom dynamics that power the system.) In light of all this, it will be important that the media and civil society bodies and other folk call them out on this promised information sharing, as and when it happens.

The source also defends whistleblowers:

“Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop.”

The source also promises further relevations and notes, exactly as we have, that the Panama Papers were not all about tax:

“Shell companies are often associated with the crime of tax evasion, but the Panama Papers show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal by definition, they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes that go beyond evading taxes.”

And when we say that the manifesto, if you want to call it that, is a tax justice document, we mean it’s aligned very much with our views. And for us the very term ‘tax justice,’ like the popular term ‘tax haven’, is a misnomer. For us, tax justice covers tax AND tax havens – and it’s that second term that covers all those non-tax elements.

But as we said, please just go and read the statement.



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