Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: The Panama Papers

The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Powerful Hide Their Money

The Panama Papers
Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier

I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, for me it simply raised many more questions than it answered. Ostensibly, the book is an attempt to let readers know how the authors, journalists at SΓΌddeutsche Zeitung, a major newspaper based in Munich, Germany came to be in the possession of 2.6 terabytes of data from a Panamanian law firm Mossack and Fonseca. This law firm is accused of setting up shell companies for well known politicians, wealthy individuals and, in some cases, known criminals. While the author points out that it is not illegal to own a shell company, the case made in this book is that Mossack and Fonseca did not follow established practices of due diligence in order to weed out risky clients. It appears from the data presented in the book that Mossack and Fonseca cared very little about the process of due diligence and they were not concerned whether their clients were high risk individuals or what their motives were for creating shell companies.

One of the first things that disturbed me about this book is the fact that the journalists were associated with an organization entitled International Consortium for Investigative Journalists, based in Washington, D.C.. One of the main financial contributors to this organization is the billionaire George Soros, himself no stranger to controversy. But nowhere in this book are we assured that Mr. Soros is not also a beneficiary of such legal constructs. Something which I would have expected. The source of the data leak is simply referred to as John Doe. The fact that I have no idea who the source is or was, makes me very weary about receiving all this information and taking it at face value. Throughout the book, I was wondering who this person could be and what his motives were.

Finally, at the end of the book John Doe provides some answers to these questions. He tells the reader that he is not working for any government or intelligence service or as a contractor for either. Yet, I wonder throughout the book why there are so few American individuals and corporations mentioned. John Doe further informs the reader that although he feels something should be done to stop people using shell companies to evade taxes and to stop law firms like Mossack and Fonseca from providing cover for these people, he is too afraid to reveal his identity, for fear that it might ruin his life. Somehow the fact that he wanted to have his cake and eat it too, just annoyed me. It seems alright for him to pass judgment on all the people he exposes but neither they nor the reader of this book can do so regarding him and his use of, what is after all, stolen data.

Also, I have a problem with the fact that both John Doe and the authors who interpret the data condemn the actions of wealthy individuals and politicians for using the services like those provided by Mossack Fonseca but they themselves have no problem stealing the data and then using it to create a book that can be published and sold to the public, thereby generating revenue for themselves and others.

On a more mundane level, I found the book somewhat repetitious as it kept coming back to the same individuals and companies over and over. For those who follow international news regularly there seems little of note to be found in this book.

Thanks to Library Thing and One World Publications for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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