Waiting for ‘Swiss Papers’

The publication of Panama Papers—some 11.5 million encrypted documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm, Mossak Fonseca, has triggered a mega political tsunami. This phenomenal expose is unarguably the biggest ever boost global war on corruption has so far received.

The reputed outfits responsible for blowing the lid off the scandal spanning well over four decades—(the German newspaper) Süddeutsche Zeitung, BBC, The Guardian, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Le Monde––have done the media proud.

Among the prominent political figures exposed by the Panama Papers, which have shed light on shadowy financial transactions via shell companies created by Mossak Fonseca, are Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson, who has resigned following the publication of the Panama Papers, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. It is a supreme irony that British Prime Minister David Cameron has had to bite the bullet, after days of dilly-dallying, and own up to the fact that he benefited from an offshore fund set up by his father. He has claimed he had severed links with the company concerned before he became PM, but his critics are not convinced. He is likely to come under pressure to emulate the example set by is Icelandic counterpart, Gunnlaugsson.

Interestingly, PM Cameron finds himself in this predicament at a time his government is pontificating on the virtues of good governance and trying to help Sri Lanka trace funds believed to have been transferred overseas under the Rajapaksa government. Western gods, too, seem to have feet of clay!

Strangely, the names of Sri Lankan politicians alleged to have transferred their ill-gotten wealth to foreign tax havens through various fronts are not found in the Panama Papers. This, however, does not mean that they have not robbed public funds or benefited from corrupt deals. Panama is not the only hub which has helped invest stolen money. There are many others.

The government said some moons ago that the Rajapaksas had stashed away as much as USD 18.5 bn in foreign accounts and vowed to bring those funds back. The onus is on the government to make good of this particular promise. If so much of money can be traced and confiscated, it will be plain sailing for the government for years to come!

MP Ranjith de Zoysa, an SLFP rebel, has told this newspaper that if it can be proved beyond doubt the Rajapaksas have acquired so much of wealth, he and other SLFP dissidents will campaign for the disbandment of the Joint Opposition, which is a thorn in President Maithripala Sirisena’s flesh.

So, with the US, the UK, India and several other powerful countries on its side, the government should be able to go hell for leather to trace and bring back the money, it says, the leaders of the previous government deposited with foreign banks and/or invested through front organisations. If it can fulfil this election pledge, it can clear all political obstacles in its path and remain in power as long as it desires.

Meanwhile, not many experts expected tax dodgers, swindlers and other racketeers to use Panama to invest their money when they had other hubs such as Switzerland, Cyprus, Bermuda and Cayman Islands for that purpose.

Thanks to the aforesaid media organisations, we now know, that among the clients who availed themselves of the services of Mossak Fonseca with 44 offices around the world are 12 current and former heads of state, 200 other politicians, as well as members of various Mafia organizations, plus football stars, 350 major banks and many private individuals with or without political connections. But, there is reason to believe that only the surface of the problem of off-shore tax havens has been scratched. It is hoped that the spotlight will be turned on all firms notorious for facilitating fraudulent financial transactions.

We look forward to ‘Swiss Papers’ etc.