How many leaked documents does it take to bring down a government?
It’s not a trick question, and the answer is 11.5 million. That’s how many documents were in the 40-year cache dubbed the Panama Papers, the internal communications of law firm Mossack Fonseca. The law firm’s specialty was setting up shell companies, many of which were used by the rich, powerful, and corrupt to hide income from the tax man.
While Russian officials around President Vladimir Putin have attracted much early attention, it was Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson who was the first casualty. When it turned out he and his wife and a couple of his senior ministers had used Mossack Fonseca to set up shell companies – for completely legal purposes, he assured everyone – Icelanders turned out in droves. An estimated 22,000 people surrounded the parliament in Reykjavik, throwing eggs and skyr, a thick Icelandic yogurt. Gunnlaugsson stepped down Tuesday.
Who will be next? Will we see an anti-corruption purge sweep away some (but surely not all) of the powerful members of China’s ruling Communist Party? Will more British politicians be shown to have familial links to Mossack Fonseca, as has already happened to PM David Cameron (his late father used the firm to avoid taxes).
What about here in Canada?
According to the CBC, the Royal Bank of Canada had contacts with Mossack Fonseca on behalf of its clients, although the bank insists that, of course, it would never be a party of money laundering and tax evasion.
We can expect to see some investigations, maybe even some criminal trials, eventually, although it likely won’t come to that in most cases.
Money is a great shield from the law.
What we’re mostly going to gain is another indication that many, many wealthy and powerful people are hypocrites, liars, and crooks.
The upper echelons of society are filled with people who feel no desire to share their wealth, and will sleep soundly having committed fraud to keep as much of it as possible.
One thing that will be mentioned only in passing – Mossack Fonseca is only the fourth largest firm of its kind. There are three larger law firms that do this kind of shady work. Which means that no matter how may millionaires are jailed and politicians fall, it will be just the tip of the iceberg.