The Panama leaks continue to make waves worldwide. Prime Minister of Iceland already has resigned following the pressure from over 10,000 people who took to the streets.
This past weekend, hundreds of reporters from over 70 countries have made public this investigation that lasted nearly a year, involving millions of leaked financial documents that became the well known Panama Papers. This volume of information is much greater than any other block of data that WikiLeaks or Edward Snowden ever obtained.
The whole story began at a much lower level, with an anonymous message being sent to the German magazine Sueddeutsche Zeitung, in early 2015. The person used a nickname and just asked if the newspaper is interested in some data. Of course, the newspaper was interested but the source had some pretty strict rules: the communication will take place only through encrypted files and no meetings. Ever!
The journalist was curious why this person wants to reveal this information. The person’s answer was very simple: ” I want to make these crimes public.”
The received data stretched back decades and included offshore transactions, email addresses, phone numbers and photo copies of passports of various clients of Mossack Foneca, the Panama – based law firm. But there was no map with which to navigate all this information. It was as if you were trying to read a CT scan without a doctor.
Because the amount of data was very large, the German magazine asked Gerard Ryle for help, the director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a global network of journalists that had handled document leaks from the HSBC bank and the tiny European nation of Luxembourg.
Ryle agreed to help the Germans to organize and put together all the information. He took a plane to Munich and after spending a few days looking over the materials, he realized that what he had in front of him is something huge. Among the things he did after that was to ensure that he has secure partnerships with the BBC, The Guardian and McClatchy.
At one of the first meetings held in Munich, at least 100 journalists from all over the world attended. Ryle was quite nervous while he held a speech and invited them into a closed collaboration that would require teamwork and that all the things they do will be kept a secret. They agreed and began to index the documents and build databases where you can search for the information you need. The group also built an internal social network where members can communicate worldwide.
Some have found that the amount of data was so large and dense that when you tried to search for something, you risked to wait three days while the computer gathered all the data. Each step forward was leading to the discovery of another new name. Over the months, journalists developed closed friendships and they began to feel as if they were all on an expedition.
Nicholas Nehamas, a Miami Herald real estate reporter, said he is pretty sure that someone with money from abroad had helped snatch up Miami property. But it was quite difficult to figure out who the Brazilians, Italians and Argentines who bought the properties really were, until the reporter started to work with Brazilian, Italian and Argentine reporters on the Panama Papers.
As soon as Nehamas found a suspicious offshore transaction, he posted it on the secret journalist chat and in a short while he received some answers that that person has been arrested for corruption.
The Panama leaks continue to reveal new and new information about famous people who preferred to hide their wealth and not do things in a legal manner. And maybe this is just the beginning…