The Panama papers


The Appalachian Online


Remember Edward Snowden? The man who three years ago leaked a little over a million documents to the public showing the extent of government spying?

As big as the reaction to that disclosure was, a new data leak has emerged that blows the Snowden leaks out of the water with its size and the impact it will have on the powerful in many different countries.

On April 3, the first 149 documents of an 11.5 million document data leak, the largest data leak to date, were released to the public.

Named the Panama Papers by Süddeutsche Zeitung, the paper that first received the leak, these documents contain the dealings and client list of the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The files, which amount to over 2.6 terabytes of data, are said to “expose the offshore holdings of world political leaders, links to global scandals, and details of the hidden financial dealings of fraudsters, drug traffickers, billionaires, celebrities, sports stars and more,” according to the the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Through a concentrated effort by the ICIJ, Süddeutsche Zeitung and over a 100 news organizations, these files will be released to the public over the span of several weeks, with the full list of Fonseca’s clients being revealed by early May 2016.

The law firm in question made a business of creating shell companies or offshore accounts that would store any money that their clients didn’t want anyone seeing, whether it be for simple tax evasion in the best case, or for acts of terrorism in the worst case.

Right now, the most interesting part of the Panama Papers isn’t what they say, but what they haven’t said so far.

One country that has been suspiciously absent from this leak is the United States.

That might seem like a good thing at first.

However, at a second glance the fact that absolutely nothing on the U.S. has been released is rather disconcerting due to one key factor: the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement.

The TPA, enacted in 2012, is a free trade agreement between the United States and Panama, and removes any restrictions that could have prevented investors from moving money into Panama.

This agreement made it easier for clients, both big and small, to have their money be hidden by Mossack Fonseca.

There are indications, however, that the easy treatment the U.S. has received so far in the disclosures will not last long.

Fortune reporter Matthew Ingram recently tweeted about a conversation he had with the editors of  Süddeutsche Zeitung.

When he asked about the absence of the U.S., the editors told him to “just wait for what is coming next.”

The implications of this are staggering. This is potentially an enormous amount of untaxed money being hidden from the U.S. government by the richest people and companies in America.

Of course, the known extent of tax evasion and avoidance is staggering itself.

An estimate by the Congressional Research Service in January put the amount of tax evasion we know of at about $100 billion. One wonders what those figures will be when this information comes out.

But it is not hard to imagine just how the public will react when they see the figures being heavily publicized.

The United States national debt currently sits at $17.8 trillion; how much of the untaxed money from U.S. clients could’ve gone to lowering that?

How many public projects or beneficial public programs were cut because of the money that the U.S. government didn’t receive on account of the sheer amount of tax evasion?

How much did taxes have to raise due to these greedy pigs? How much money was borrowed from various social institutions or other countries on account of these selfish fat cats?

This entire mess, spanning back over 40 years, is the single best thing for people all across the globe.

Finally these practices are coming out into the open, and with the light of scrutiny being shined on these parasites, the entire practice could be tamped down on.

As of now, the public only has a fraction of a fraction of the entire data, I have a feeling that by the time the entire treasure trove of filth is released to the public, the world is going to be turned upside down.

Russell, a freshman journalism major from Charlotte, is an opinion writer.