Visualizing the Panama Papers


Yesterday morning, we woke up to witness the biggest political scandal in recent history: the Panama Papers. After concluding a year-long investigation by a group of global journalists, we saw an unprecedented clear image of a very secret and dark world. This was the world where the world’s rich and powerful used offshore tax havens via intermediary banks to build shell companies and hide their wealth, launder money, evade taxes and dodge sanctions. How did we get to know about this? It all started a year ago.

An anonymous source leaked a treasure trove of 11 million documents – 2.6 terabytes worth of data – from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which recorded 40 years’ worth of transactions valued at billions. The data was first leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared the data with The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Over the last 12 months, 400 journalists from 100 media organizations in 80 countries, worked on the largest leak in history.

The scale of the Panama Papers
Image credits: Süddeutsche Zeitung

This is the Panama Papers. As the image above highlights, this is a massive amount of data that supersedes all other leaks before it. To understand it can be a tough challenge, to say the least. However, it’s important that we do have some sort of understanding of this data because it can and does affect the world around us. But making sense of 2.4 terabytes of data can be a challenge. That’s why we found a bunch of tools that would help you visualize all this data and get a better understanding of things.

Creating shell companies aren’t illegal in itself, in fact, they can be used as tools of privacy. However, when they’re set up in offshore tax havens and the secrecy is used to facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking, there are real victims. Many of whom are the poor and the weak. This is why the Panama Papers is so important: it exposes a massive wave of global corruption.

But who are people involved in this scandal? There’s an LOT of high-profile names mentioned in the Panama Papers. You have world leaders such as the President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri and their close friends/family of theirs such as two childhood friends of President Vladimir Putin.

As the interactive above from the ICIJ shows, a lot of powerful people have been implicated in this scandal. But even this is scratching the surface. The Panama Papers also include names of famous celebrities. One such celebrity is Lionel Messi, the iconic football megastar. You even have Aishwarya Rai and Amitabh Bachan, amongst the list of 500 other Indians involved in this scandal. With names like this now you know why the news has gone viral. Surprisingly we’ve yet to see any Sri Lankan names appear. However, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is only scratching the surface.

A total of 214.000 offshore companies, have been setup by Mossack Fonseca on behalf of these people. Where are these companies located? The map below from the Irish Times gives a clear answer to that.

Zoom in on Sri Lanka and you’ll find that we even have 3 such companies here. What are the names of these companies? Who are its shareholders? At the moment we really have no idea. The entire database of the Panama Papers has yet to be released to the public. However, these are important questions we as a nation need to ask and our authorities must act upon.

This is still only one side of the picture though. It’s important to remember that Mossack Fonseca has been doing this for 40 years. These graphs by the ICIJ give some more insight into how active the firm was all these years.

By visualizing this data, we get a better understanding of the sheer scale of this scandal. Yet, this only the beginning, in the coming days we will likely hear even more tales about the Panama Papers. Yet, whether we shall see people being held accountable is still questionable. After all, some of the world’s most powerful people have been implicated. Though, this hasn’t stopped people in Iceland from throwing yogurt and demanding the resignation of their Prime Minister. Similarly, the entire Internet is talking about Panama Papers and demanding. It’ll be interesting to see how the saga plays out as the ICIJ and its partners reveal more about this story.



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