What Do World Leaders and Drug Cartels Have in Common? Hiding Their Assets in Panama

Apr 04 2016

What Do World Leaders and Drug Cartels Have in Common? Hiding Their Assets in Panama

The Panama Papers represent the biggest data leak in history—an estimated 20 times bigger than Wikileaks. Literally millions of pages detail the inner workings of the law firm Mossak Fonseca, known for helping wealthy international clients to hide billions from tax collectors and law enforcement. Major drug dealers are naturally involved.

Details of the leaks emerged on Sunday when numerous media organizations which had pooled their resources by to read through the material—including German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the BBC, The Guardian and The Times of India—went public. Many prominent figures—such as the prime minister of Iceland, the father of UK PM David Cameron, Jackie Chan and Lionel Messi—have been publicly embarrassed for hiding funds. Companies which provided fuel to the Syrian air force, in violation of sanctions, have been making use of Mossak Fonseca too. And one of Vladimir Putin’s best friends has been implicated for hiding up to $2 billion with the firm’s expert assistance. Information is also emerging that at least companies blacklisted for their involvement with everything from Hezbollah terrorism to Mexican drug cartels received help from Mossak Fonseca to hide assets.

Panama has already had its fair share of drug-money scandals. Under former leader Manuel Noriega, Panamanian banks eagerly hid money for Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel; and when Noriega was operating as an anti-communist proxy for the US, Miami-based drug dealers were known to buy equipment using checks from the Panama Central Bank with relative impunity. Panama never shook its reputation as a hub for illicit business practices—and for good reason.