The Panama Papers: mystery, hypocrisy, conspiracy
Privacy is a valuable thing. An anonymous source has provided millions of documents revealing the private financial dealings of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca’s clients to an international consortium of investigative journalists, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
Those clients no longer enjoy privacy. The names of famous people mentioned in the documents were splashed across headlines around the world. These included people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, family members of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as some well-known Saudis and a number of other celebrities.
The suggestion is that these people all had something to hide, though so far there is no proof that they have done anything illegal.
The reactions have been interesting to watch. In Europe, a witch hunt was immediately launched against those who require privacy in their financial affairs. Politicians from the United Kingdom, France and Germany have called for full transparency in business transactions.
The right to privacy – a human right – has been discarded. The potential for those involved to suffer real financial damage is ignored: the data presents criminals and corrupt governments with an El Dorado of potential loot, ripe for their raiding.
At the same time, those who have carefully saved or painstakingly developed their assets, but want to keep their finances out of the public eye, are considered immoral. Cross-border business and investment are deemed suspect by their very nature.
It remains unknown who exactly provided the journalists with the data. Since the documents include information about the companies and their financial transactions, it seems likely that it came not only from within the Panamanian law firm, but from other sources as well. It smacks of targeted intelligence work.
Russia claims that the data was supplied by American intelligence services, with the intention of damaging political foes such as President Putin or the Chinese leadership.
Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, has suggested that the Russian intelligence services were in fact behind the scandal. He explains that while Mr. Putin’s reputation was left relatively unscathed, the revelations caused an uproar in countries allied to the United States and sowed distrust in their economic and governance systems.
Moreover, Russia could have been sending a message to the political and business leaders of those countries that their reputation can be destroyed, even if they did no wrong.
Whoever provided the data has succeeded in undermining the rule of law. Politicians and the media have used disclosures to “criminalize” ordinary activities in the market economy (which has provided prosperity for a large and increasing portion of humanity), simply by claiming that the wish for privacy suggests shady dealings.