“We’re not going to stop the services and go plant bananas or something” – Jürgen Mossack
MOSSACK Fonseca has leapt from well tended anonymity to the centre of global speculation in the space of a week.
If you’re coming in late, the Panamanian firm, reported to be responsible for five per cent of the global financial services legal industry, has had its email servers hacked and 2.6 TeraBytes of interesting emails disseminated to hundreds of journalists.
As a result, 800 Australians are now reportedly being investigated by the Australian Tax Office.
Intriguingly, Paul Hogan is in the thick of the revelations having demanded the firm stop working with the Swiss bankers who lost millions of his money.
All media outlets are obliged to mention that simply engaging the services of Mossack Fonseca does not in itself represent criminality, and there are many legitimate reasons to move money through offshore companies.
But one of the hallmarks of this case is that so many of the leaked emails make candid mention of the criminality of their clients, or simply name known criminals using their services.
The clients of the firm will be extremely displeased at this devil-may-care attitude, when anyone with a lick of sense would know better than to consign this sort of thing to the unforgivingly public medium of email.
(If you’re going to tell anyone something you’d regret the government knowing about, it’s best done in person and leave your mobile phone at home.)
If I were running the morgue in Panama City, I’d be placing an order for extra body bags around now.
Panama, of course, has become a centre for shady financial transactions thanks, in part, to the trade passing through its canal and, in part, thanks to being nice and close to all the cocaine money that needs a home after its traffickers run out of space in the attic for their enormous bags of cash.
There’s a lie we’re frequently told and that our little monkey brains desperately want to believe, that wealthy powerful people could only become that way if they were virtuous.
It brings a lot of comfort. God is in his heaven, there are rules that apply to us all, people who work hard and live right will be rewarded.
Every now and then the facade falls down, but our brains don’t want to contemplate the awful truth too closely.
Even in this case there are some uncomfortable questions as to who hacked the email server.
The Center for Public Integrity runs the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which is co-ordinating the releases.
The CPI is funded, in part, by the Omidyar Network, which in turn pops up in a lot of places. Pierre Omidyar is the billionaire founder of eBay who, amongst many, many other interests, funded the revolutionary groups in the Ukraine that kicked out the pro-Russian government in 2014.
And who is the first figure mentioned in any discussion of the Panama Papers? It’s Vladimir Putin.
(All of the above can be verified with cursory googling, it’s not even secret.)
The real lesson here might be that if you’re engaged in shady, arm’s-length, international financial transactions you don’t want to be using a lawyer who also performs these services for the Russian oligarchy.
Mossack Fonseca’s Australian clients will be wishing they’d gone elsewhere to get their trusts in the British Virgin Islands, however virtuous their reasons might be.