Ten things we've learned
1. It does what it says on the tin
A tax haven is a tax haven. This may sound simple but, although there
were lots of accusations that so-called offshore financial centres were
little more than places where the rich, corrupt and criminal could hide
their ill-gotten gains, the proof was not always there.
The countries themselves talk about their 'specialist financial
expertis' and 'tax planning' abilities, while their critics say that
this was being used as a front for crime on a massive scale. The sheer
size of the volume of released documents has enabled us to see numerous
examples of what has been going on. We always suspected it was a can of
worms - now the lid has been lifted and we know for certain that it is.
2. Everybody needs friends they can trust
None of the money that seems to have flowed from Russia into tax
havens belongs to President Putin, but billions of dollars of it seems
to belong to his friends. For the Kremlin, this is a sign that the
revelations are driven by Putinphobia and those determined to do down
Russia. For many others, it looks like the Putin is using his trusted
friends to launder money for him.
If you think that this is a conspiracy against President Putin, you
might need to reconsider why one of his best friends, a Russian
classical cellist, has made so much money.
3. Iceland is more interesting than we thought
For all its beauty and the famous collapse of its banking system, the
assumption up until now has been that Iceland, like its Scandinavian
cousins, is one of the good guys - honest, decent and trustworthy.
But the Icelandic prime minister has had to resign over accusations
he hid millions of dollars in a company in the British Virgin Islands
-which had a direct interest in the health and wealth of Iceland's banks
- which as prime minister he was responsible for. Sigmundur David
Gunnlaugsson has insisted he and his wife have followed Icelandic law
and have paid all their taxes in Iceland, but that is not really the
point when your country was brought to its knees by a banking crisis.
4. Common criminals' money is as good as anyone else's
While much of the focus has been into the dealings of dictators and
corrupt regimes, it seems that Panama is not above helping good
old-fashioned robbers. For it is also alleged that Mossack Fonseca
helped launder the millions stolen during the notorious Brink's Mat gold
bullion robbery of 1983, when three and a half tonnes of gold
Allegedly the Panamanian company tried to stop the British Police
from tracking down that cash, by setting up a company for a property
dealer called Gordon Parry. Even though it knew Parry was laundering
money from the Brink's Mat robbery, it even helped him regain control of
the stolen money when the police were drawing near. Parry was finally
caught in 1990 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
5. There is still a great deal of explaining to do
Some of the leaked files show it enabled a leading regime figure in
Syria, Rami Makhlouf, to keep his companies trading, despite being
blacklisted by US Treasury sanctions and UK sanctions. The papers also
show the Foreign Office in the UK was aware of one of those companies.
In 2011, after sanctions on Makhlouf were in place, HSBC - one of
Britain's largest banks - asked the governor of the British Virgin
Islands for a certificate of incumbency for Drex Technologies, one of
the businesses owned by Makhlouf. That certificate is basically an
In order to get it approved, the governor of the British Virgin
Islands needed to get it signed by an official at the Foreign Office on
behalf of the Foreign Secretary. The document clearly states that the
director of Drex Technologies is Rami Makhlouf and is stamped and signed
by a Foreign Office official.HSBC has denied any wrongdoing.
6. The tax man cometh
The list of countries that are interested in examining the 11.5
million documents continues to grow. Germany, Norway, France, Spain and
Australia are just a few that have promised to examine how many of their
citizens have been using the company and evading tax. The German
authorities have already been raiding homes and businesses looking for
There was a surge in business for Mossack Fonseca when the European
Savings Directive made hiding your money in Europe more difficult. With
many people looking to hide "black" money, there must be a lot of
nervous tax dodgers out there.
7. Some people know less than we do
It is difficult to research parts of the Panama story online in
China, especially the allegation that close relatives of seven current
or former Chinese leaders have been found to have links to offshore
firms. Documents leaked from Panama name family members of Chinese
President Xi Jinping and two other members of China's elite Standing
Committee, Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan.
8. Do they play footie in Panama?
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has denied wrongdoing after leaked
documents suggested he signed on a contract with two businessmen who
have since been accused of bribery.
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis own a company called Cross Trading and bought
TV rights for Uefa Champions League football, which they immediately
sold on for almost three times the price. The 2006 contract was signed
off by Infantino when he was a Uefa director.
Cross Trading also has links to Juan Pedro Damiani, a member of
FIFA's Ethics Committee who has already been placed under internal
9. Offshore firms help push up London house prices
The leaked papers shows how many of the most expensive properties in
London are owned by foreigners through offshore companies that hide
House prices in much of the UK are already at eye-watering highs but
in the centre of London, they are at a different level. While some
British people can afford those prices, many are bought by foreigners.
The attraction is obvious: London is a safe and attractive city and
every time there is a crisis somewhere in the world, another swathe of
worried wealthy locals decide to put some of their money in London.
That forces up the price of property in central London and that
ripples out across the capital and then the country.
London mortgages could be so large in part because of the ease with
which Middle Eastern royal families, Russian billionaires and the
political leaders of corrupt regimes can use secret offshore companies
and how much property wealth they have in London.
10. This is just the start
The list of allegations continues to grow and the scale of the issues
involved is also on the rise. So far, we have read only a small
percentage of the released documents.
The accusations are likely to increase the pressure on governments to
Jonty Bloom is a Business correspondent with BBC News.