Money and Democracy

Published — May 6, 2016 Updated — May 7, 2016 at 2:16 pm ET

‘John Doe’ explains Panama Papers and why the ICIJ

Note from the Center


The Panama Papers story has gained fresh impetus with a remarkable manifesto from the person who leaked the information, explaining the motives behind the world’s largest leak and the reasons it was given to German newspapers Suddeutsche Zeitung and our own International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

In an eloquent statement given to and verified by the German newspaper, the leaker — identified only as “John Doe” as he or she has been throughout a year-long relationship with journalists at Suddeutsche Zeitung — blames politicians, lawyers, academics and the news media for “failing to address the metastasizing tax havens spotting Earth’s surface” and contributing to inequality.

“Doe” directly praises the work of the ICIJ — the international arm of the Center for Public Integrity – in taking on a leak other media organizations rejected and notes “serious investigative journalists lack funding”. It may seem self-serving but this note is not the news report of Doe’s statement, rather it is a personal note to readers from me and of course the ICIJ is part of a non-profit reliant on the donations of philanthropists and individuals.

The full statement from Doe is published on the ICIJ site dedicated to the Panama Papers.

Tackling conspiracy theories that an intelligence agency was behind the leak of 11.5 million documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, “Doe” writes: “For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own, as was my decision to share the documents with Suddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), not for any specific political purpose, but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale of the injustices they described.”

“Doe” accuses Mossack Fonseca of exploiting a global system of tax havens which permits “massive, pervasive corruption” and of using its influence to “write and bend laws worldwide to favour the interests of criminals…” The leaker welcomes the “new global debate” that the Panama Papers (a term coined by the ICIJ and SZ, not the leaker) has generated. “Doe” offers to cooperate with authorities but condemns the prosecution or harassing whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden and those involved in what became the base for another ICIJ investigation “Lux Leaks”.

“Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop,” Doe’s manifesto says, adding that in the absence of that protection whistleblowers have to rely on the reach of media organizations like the ICIJ.

In a swipe at the money-in-politics circuit in the United States which led to the establishment of the Center for Public Integrity 27 years ago, “Doe” condemns the collusion between U.S politicians and their paymasters: “Tax evasion cannot possibly be fixed while elected officials are pleading for money from the very elites who have the strongest incentives to avoid taxes relative to any other segment of the population.”

Yet it is a politician from a much less powerful country — my own home country — who is singled out. “John Doe” accuses New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, embroiled in a controversy over the Panama Papers revelations at home already, of enabling a “financial fraud Mecca” in the nearby Cook Islands.

The whole affair has been rendered even more extraordinary by “Doe” intervention.

On Monday, the ICIJ will take the story a step further with the scheduled publication of a searchable database through which all the companies and all the individual “officers” identified in the Mossack Fonseca records can be seen as a spider-web which stretches across the world.

The entire effort is a huge credit to the work and staff of the ICIJ, led by Director Gerard Ryle and Deputy Director Marina Guevara Walker. They have harnessed the work of a tiny ICIJ staff team and combined it with more than 370 reporters from more than 100 organizations worldwide to coordinate the analysis and release of these documents.

“Doe” makes clear the story was offered to other media organizations and to Wikileaks before Suddeutsche Zeitung and the ICIJ recognized the value of what was offered. Doe takes a swipe at the rest of the media: “Many news networks are cartoonish parodies of their former selves, individual billionaires appear to have taken up newspaper ownership as a hobby, limiting coverage of serious matters concerning the wealthy, and serious investigative journalists lack funding.”

And, ending the note, “Doe” says: “the next revolution will be digitized…Or perhaps it has already begun.”

Peter Bale
CEO, The Center for Public Integrity

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