'The leak of the century'

Note from the Center-an update from our CEO on the Panama Papers from Public Integrity's ICIJ unit

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This April 5, 2016 file photo shows the entrance of the regional head office of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world's biggest creators of shell companies, in Hong Kong, America's openness to foreign tax evaders is coming under new scrutiny after the leak this week of 11.5 million confidential documents from the Panamanian law firm. The Panama Papers show how some of the world's richest people hide assets in shell companies to avoid paying taxes.

Vincent Yu/AP

Leak of the Century

The Economist calls it “The Leak of the Century.” The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists called it “Prometheus” when it was a secret project, and the world now knows it as Panama Papers.

It is a monster project and an even bigger story: the biggest story in the world this week. Millions of Tweets, thousands of stories from the more than 100 ICIJ partners, tens of thousands of pick ups from the rest of the media and millions of video streams.

I’ve written to you, our staff, our board, our donors and partners before with updates this week so I won’t repeat those other than to say the story is still rolling. #resigncameron is trending on Twitter this morning after the British Prime Minister acknowledged — after much fudging of the issue — that he had benefited from offshore trusts the ICIJ team revealed his father had set up.

So far, the Icelandic prime minister has resigned, as have the head of Transparency International in Chile, a leading Austrian banker and a leading world football executive. The leak and our reports identify public officials, rulers, despots and democratically elected officials. Investigations have been launched by authorities around the world, conspiracy theories are multiplying and the impact has just begun.

What is clear though is the quality of the journalism of the ICIJ and its partners and the power of the network created over the years since Chuck Lewis founded the ICIJ and particularly in the past four years under the direction of Gerard Ryle and Marina Guevara Walker. The fact 370 journalists around the world could work in the same enormous project, in private and securely, and the leak not leak is astounding. It is a testament to the trust and strength Gerard and his entire team have built into the platform and the relationships with our partners.

I am going to take the risk of calling out Mar Cabra, Matthew Caruana and Rigoberto Caraval for their work on that platform. The entire ICIJ team stands behind this work and they are all identified here, as are our media partners here.  

It is important to remember how small the ICIJ team is when considering what they have achieved. It is also crucial to recall that the ICIJ and its parent, the Center for Public Integrity, are non-profit investigative journalism operations dependent on philanthropic support. We have had thousands of people donate through the ICIJ Panama Papers site since launch. None of this would have been possible though without the long-term support of groups such as the Adessium Foundation in the Netherlands, the Open Society Foundations, the Australian businessman Graeme Wood and the Sigrid Rausing Trust, and many previous philanthropic and individual supporters over the years of the ICIJ in particular and the Center for Public Integrity in general.

No funder had a say in what the ICIJ was working on.

To critics, those who were left out of the story, the conspiracy theorists and anyone else who would take pot shots at it, we have decided to say only: “We will let our journalism speak for itself.”

Stories from the ICIJ I strongly recommend you read, and updated from my earlier notes include:

- Jake Bernstein in the art world’s use of havens to hide shenanigans The Art of Secrecy

- Will Fitzgibbon on the James Bond world of havens used by spies 

- Marina Guevara Walker’s Frequently Asked Questions on the Panama Papers

On the work by others I recommend reading in full the editorial and the two main stories, here and here that The Economist has written this week. I thought Vice did a nice job of nailing some of the nonsense with this compendium of the conspiracy theories around the work. Again, I also recommend watching the superb video by the ICIJ member which received the leak: Suddeutsche Zeitung.

If you wish to support the CPI and the ICIJ please go to our DONATE page. We’d be very grateful. We appreciate the years of support the organizations have had from philanthropy groups, individuals and staff members from the very start. As it happens, the Ford Foundation, a current supporter of the Center though not a current backer directly of the ICIJ, has published an interview with Gerard in its latest bulletin.

I welcome feedback on this note.

Peter Bale
CEO, The Center for Public Integrity

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