The Lasting Legacy of the Panama Papers

Sep 25, 2017

When the Panama Papers were released in 2016, the investigative report led to protesting in countries around the globe and deposed several world leaders.

"The Panama Papers is the largest leak... of secret financial information ever obtained by journalists. It's 11.5 million records of secretive, offshore structures belonging to thousands of people around the world, including prime ministers and presidents and senators and all kind of people of public interest," says Marina Walker Guevara, deputy director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ. 

"The Panama Papers is the largest leak... of secret financial information ever obtained by journalists. It's 11.5 million records of secretive, offshore structures belonging to thousands of people around the world."

Walker Guevara managed the investigation, which exposed more than 200,000 offshore entities and revealed the people behind these shell corporations. More than 370 journalists around the world worked for a year to uncover the information from the leak, combing through millions of document implicating some of the most powerful people in the world. 

These kinds of investigations are Walker Guevara's forte. She has been at the front of a number of investigations into offshore entities and says none of that work would have been possible without leaks of information. 

"The offshore world is built on secrecy. Basically, when you are in the real world where we all live, you have to put, let's say your house, your car, is in your name, right? If you own it, you really own it and you put it in your name and it's in the public record," she explains. 

"When you play in the offshore world in tax havens... you don't have to put your name on anything. So basically you can have millions of dollars - yachts and jets and bank accounts - in the name of somebody else."

She continues, "But when you play in the offshore world in tax havens... you don't have to put your name on anything. So basically you can have millions of dollars - yachts and jets and bank accounts - in the name of somebody else. It's called nominee director. It's people you basically rent. They rent their name so you don't have to put your name on your money. And that way we create a completely parallel economy that basically underpins the real economy."

The Panama Papers led to the resignation of former Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and the disqualification of former Prime Minster of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif. Many politicians and other public figures are still facing scrutiny for their involvement with these offshore entities, and Walker Guevara says the investigation sent a strong message to the people who might become involved with these tax havens. 

She says, "It showed us, I think a really important message - and especially for bad guys - that in the digital age secrecy’s really an illusion and that information is going to continue becoming more and more available, hopefully to investigative journalists."