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Heaven on Earth

Paradise Papers

Raman Swamy

Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame is of the opinion that the Paradise Papers  are certainly a major expose – but nobody should get carried away with expectations that illicit practices of money laundering, black money and illegal investments in assets and companies will be busted. 

In a Twitter message Assange has said:  “Paradise Papers are a great and improvement on Panama Papers. But the basic problem remains –gate keeping everything forever is hardly possible”.

As another perceptive observer put it - “Publishing the Paradise Papers is today’s big exciting news. Tomorrow, they will be forgotten and nothing will have changed”.

The truth is that Power hides its secrets. The rich and powerful know how to ride the storm. 

It is being hailed as the “biggest global journalistic scope of the year”.  And undoubtedly it is.  The trove of covert data uncovers details of the offshore banking activities of hundreds of wealthy individuals and companies around the world, who have undisclosed accounts where they store they money.

A mysterious, unidentified source is said to have leaked the millions of clandestine documents to a newspaper in Germany. Since the sheer volume of data – running into 1.4 Terabytes (or 1400 Gigabytes) -- for one newspaper to pore through let alone understand and analyze, the material was shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The Consortium is the same group of 96 news organization from across the world that won the Pulitzer Prize for its work on the Panama Papers, a treasure trove of leaked records of shady transactions by a law firm in Panama.

It is not as if offshore banking is illegal. It is not.  Nor should it be assumed that all secret accounts are illegitimate or all money deposits and transfers are somehow unethical or immoral. 

Contrary to the general public misperception, offshore banking is completely legal. It's not about tax evasion or other illegal activities. It's simply about legally diversifying your political risk by putting your liquid savings in sound, well-capitalized institutions where they are treated best. 

The consortium itself has put out a Disclaimer:  “There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any people, companies or other entities included in the Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly”.

That however is the crux of the problem with the Paradise Papers, just as it was with the Panama Papers. 

There is so much of material that it will take years to examine in detail.  More importantly, not all the material is about illegal, immoral, unethical activities.   It could take many years to prosecute even those who have obviously been using offshore bank accounts for nefarious purposes – like tax-evasion, money laundering, bribery, drug deals, gun sales, terrorist funding, etc. etc.
 
This is not to say that a large number of famous and notorious politicians, businessmen, film stars and other celebrities and several hitherto unknown criminals and crooks of various hues will not be thoroughly exposed and embarrassed.   The Paradise Papers are bound to destroy many lucrative and illegal careers.   The filthy rich have every reason to panic at the latest leaks that will pull down the curtain on their shady offshore banking operations to hide their ill-gotten treasures through shell companies and numerous other ingenious means and subterfuges.

This particular cache of secret documents comes largely from one specific Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby.  There are probably dozens or even hundreds of similar firms whose accounts have not yet been uncovered. 

The point is for the public at large not to expect too much too soon from the revelations.  In each country in the world, the politically well-connected will somehow succeed in protecting themselves from serious investigation and prosecuting.   It is likely that governments of the day will jump at the opportunity to target their political rivals.  

Paradise Papers.  It the code name sounds much more inspirational than Panama Papers – which was a rather prosaic catch-phrase that could have signified anything:  a water canal project, a straw hat, a once-popular cigarette brand of yesteryears.

But Paradise Papers has a celestial ring to it.  It promises heaven on earth, a world of safe shelters for the rich and famous to stash their money away from prying eyes. It is to be fervently hoped that the it has far greater success in exposing black money titans and unearthing their ill-gotten gains than the earlier Pulitzer Prize-winning global investigative journalism mega-scoop.

 Raman Swamy <[email protected]>

Frontier
Vol. 50, No.24, Dec 17 - 23, 2017