Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

The Taylor of Panama

Who managed to perform the biggest blow to the offshore banking world, how did they do it, and what was the real aim behind the leak?

Seventeen years ago, while NATO was conducting the illegal bombing of Serbia, and had just "unintentionally" killed dozens of passengers on a train to Thessaloniki and a column of refugees from Kosovo, its genial head of communications, Jamie Shea, pulled the rabbit out of the hat, and a few hours later the media announced: “Milosevic's secret offshore treasure been found.”

No one specified the sum; however the news spoke of "many billions." Nor did anyone specify which bank these were in, or how they had been sent. But that was enough to spread this disinformation around the world for a few days. The former Serbian president had not in fact hidden even one single penny abroad.

Today, the "Panama papers" scandal seems to have something in common with those old accusations levied at Milosevic, but with an important difference: in this case, politicians, sports stars, and businessmen have indeed sent large sums to Central America. But the most important question is, who are they? Or rather, who decided whose names to publish, whose to hide, and which ones should be speculatively used? Who was the craftsman who skillfully stitched this story together? Who is the tailor of Panama?

To try and understand it, we must first investigate the details: who developed that information, through which channels, and for what purpose. For several years, generally official groups who spread this kind of information, have been hidden behind such names as "democracy", "transparency", "human rights" and so on; partially to impress candid souls and partially because no one would find an organization that is called, for example, "international espionage" or "organized defamation" to be very credible.

In short, a year ago an unknown hand downloaded the huge digital archive of "Mossack Fonseca", the Panamanian law firm, infamous for the creation of offshore companies acting as tax havens. According to some reports, the thief would be a former employee of the firm, but some suspect it was the work of hacking, carried out by sophisticated structures linked to some intelligence agencies.

The number of stolen documents was impressive: 11.5 million digital files, the vast majority of which were e-mails and databases, but also PDF files. A number greater than the combined total of “Wikileaks”, “Offshore Leaks”, “Lux Leaks” and “Swiss Leaks”. After that, an investigation team of 400 journalists used the “Niux” software, a sophisticated platform that allows you to index millions of unstructured data. Then, a few days later the influential paper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (SZ) published the story, and the first ‘victim’ of the leaks was the Iceland Prime Minister, who resigned after the gathered masses in front of his office made him do so.

Doing ‘offshore’ business isn’t illegal, but hidden ownerships of shell firms, as well as possible money laundering and tax avoidance,  are criminal activities. But above all this, the real question is, where did the huge amount of money come from? Politicians took oaths to work for the interest of their country, not for their own personal gain at the country' expense. So what were the real motivations and priorities here? How was this suit tailored to fit? The message from the Tailor of Panama, who introduced himself by the name “John Doe”, and leaked terabytes of top secret papers, was precisely this: crooked politicians are leading your country, and you (people) must do something about that.

What’s more interesting is, who are the targets who’ve had business with Mossack Fonseca? Businessmen, sportsmen, politicians as usual. All of them are prone to this kind of activity: to avoid high taxes, make big money legitimate, and to hide stolen money from the country of origin. Among them, the most dust arose around two names - Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, David Cameron, British Prime Minister and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The reaction comes as a thunderstorm both from Russia and China. The Kremlin said, Vladimir Putin is the target of attempts to destabilize Russia through the publication of reports linking him to as much as $2 billion in offshore transactions, which allegedly involved also people close to the president. By the way, not a single man or institution from Germany or the USA has been implicated. But at the same time, it is also true that Putin has not been named in the leak.

Reactions of the Kremlin and the Chinese government are well known – both sides said that such information linking them to wrongdoing is “false and fabricated.” The choice of names seems to be targeted, even though it has been some western papers of record that first introduced the public to the idea that Putin was somehow involved. Reading the actual leaks, one finds not a single mention of the Russian president. Maybe we are wrong, but doesn’t this look like the core of criminal an investigation run by a conglomerate of mainstream media called the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,” a non-profit organization, along with reporters from over 100 news agencies. It is important to mention the Guardian, BBC, The Washington Post, Figaro, and Fusion are among them. Nevertheless, implicated in the leak are diverse institutions that must answer some tough questions eventually, which is at first strange but perhaps ultimately convenient, in political terms.

In times characterized by tensions, these leaks which fan flames will create a problem between countries already having disputes. It looks like some countries decided to handle some problems from behind the scene, hiring the usual players; NGO’s. There are no US politicians or officials mentioned so far, likewise neither from Germany or France (apart from the mysterious “Marine Le Pen entourage”). But perhaps this is understandable at least for the US since it is fairly easy to form shell companies within the United States.

In any case, this was perfect timing for hitting the EU, Russia, and China hard - and so far we have no indication who ran this operation.

But if we want to go further and start tracking what the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists “(ICIJ) is and, most importantly, who is the financier of such a huge NGO, we can start be revealing that they were founded in 1997, as a non-profit global network of more than 190 journalists from 65 countries dealing with cross-border criminal activities, corruption, and accountability of power. Founded and supported by, at least recently, ICIJ funders include: “Adessium Foundation”, “Open Society Foundations”, “The Sigrid Rausing Trust”, the “Fritt Ord Foundation”, the “Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting”, the” Ford Foundation”, the “David and Lucile Packard Foundation“, “Pew Charitable Trusts” and “Waterloo Foundation”.

The Washington-based ICIJ was launched as a project of the “Centre for Public Integrity” founded in 1989 by Charles Lewis, whose aim was ‘serving democracy by revealing the abuse of power, corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions.’ The Board of Directors includes Peter Bale, who works for the CNN International, a Reuters correspondent, and an editor for 15 years in Asia, Eastern Europe and Mid East; Dan E. Emmett, the chairman of the board of directors for Douglas Emmett, Inc, who co-founded DEI's predecessor companies, Douglas, Emmett and Company, a fully integrated real estate management and leasing company, and Douglas Emmett Realty Advisors, which grew during the 1990's into a large manager of institutional real estate funds. Moreover, James. A. Kiernan is a former partner in, and currently of counsel to Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, the New York-based international law firm.  He has spent most of his legal career in Europe, first in Paris and then in London, where he played a leading role in building the firm’s European practice. Another board member is Bill Kovach, a journalist, and writer for over 60 years, starting in 1956 for the Johnson City paper, The Nashville Tennessean.  After a journalism fellowship at Stanford University, he joined The New York Times in 1968 where he worked for 18 years. For the next eight years — from 1979 to 1986 — he was chief of The Times Washington bureau. Through his firm, Lead the Change, established in 2010, Hendrik-Jan Laseur worked with ambitious leaders in civil society and business organizations. Lead the Change has worked on assignments in over 20 countries in Asia, North America, the Middle East and throughout Europe.

It's too early to conclude anything with certainty, except for a couple of small facts: this operation will lead to further investigations and turmoil around geopolitical tables and that the “Tailor of Panama” has many important collaborators.

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