The release by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in early April of documents from the files of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and additional releases of details of offshore transactions involving well-known public figures, corporations and law firms (the Panama Papers) have shone a light on the use of offshore accounts and shell entities to shield the identities of the real parties to a variety of transactions. https://panamapapers.icij.org. The names of individuals and entities as diverse as the Prime Minister of Iceland, soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, and Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter have appeared in connection with the releases. The releases have resulted in a flurry of articles concerning tax avoidance, U.S. and non-U.S. tax loopholes, and the role of the legal profession in these transactions. The commentary and speculation will in all likelihood continue as more information is released.
An additional, and perhaps as important, concern raised by the release of the Panama Papers is the manner in which the information was obtained. The ICIJ (along with the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung) received the documents, numbering in the millions, through a cyber-leak at Mossack Fonseca. Regardless of whether the leak originated inside the firm or was the work of an outside hacker, it focuses attention on the vulnerability of law firms that are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of their clients’ files.
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