Panama Papers revenue recovery reaches $1.36 billion as investigations continue

Five years after the Panama Papers were first pub­lished, author­i­ties are still claw­ing back lost tax dol­lars and pros­e­cut­ing wrong­do­ers exposed by the glob­al investigation.

Governments around the world have now recouped more than $1.36 bil­lion in back tax­es and penal­ties as a direct result of the Panama Papers, includ­ing $185 mil­lion in new­ly-report­ed recov­er­ies over the past two years.

Five years after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists led a world­wide inves­ti­ga­tion expos­ing the secrets of the off­shore finance indus­try, 24 coun­tries have report­ed offi­cial recov­er­ies, with hun­dreds more pro­ceed­ings still ongoing.

Along with jour­nal­ists from 100 media part­ners all over the globe, ICIJ exam­ined over 11.5 mil­lion secret doc­u­ments from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The files, which were leaked to the German news­pa­per Süddeutsche Zeitung, exposed a world­wide web of off­shore shell com­pa­nies that Mossack Fonseca set up for a list of clients includ­ing heads of state, busi­ness exec­u­tives and star ath­letes.

Since April 2019, Australia has added close to $45 mil­lion to its total, which now sits at near­ly $138 mil­lion. Italy has report­ed recoup­ing an addi­tion­al $31.8 mil­lion since 2019 — near­ly dou­bling its total to $65.5 mil­lion. And in February 2021, the Norwegian Tax Administration report­ed for the first time to ICIJ’s media part­ner that it had been able to recov­er near­ly $34 million.

With its new find­ings, Australia becomes the fifth coun­try to have offi­cial­ly report­ed more than $100 mil­lion in rev­enue recouped after the Panama Papers rev­e­la­tions. The United Kingdom has recov­ered $252.8 mil­lion; Germany has reclaimed $195.7 mil­lion ($12.5 mil­lion new since 2019); Spain has recov­ered $166.5 mil­lion; and France has recouped $142.3 million.

A conservative count

In the wake of the Panama Papers, more than 80 nations announced inves­ti­ga­tions that could lead to recov­ered mon­ey, crim­i­nal charges or oth­er con­se­quences. But ICIJ’s total counts only the recov­ered funds that we can ver­i­fy through offi­cial respons­es from governments.

Many nations choose not to pub­li­cize the amount of mon­ey that has been recov­ered — or com­ment on ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tions at all. In 2017, the Asahi Shimbun report­ed via an anony­mous source that the Japanese tax agency had col­lect­ed over 3 bil­lion yen (about $27 mil­lion) in rela­tion to the Panama Papers, but since the gov­ern­ment does not pub­licly com­ment on spe­cif­ic cas­es, we have no way to ver­i­fy that fig­ure and include it in our count.

Meanwhile, oth­ers report on mon­ey that has been “assessed” or “claimed,” as opposed to mon­ey that has been paid. Canada’s tax agency has assessed over $16 mil­lion in tax­es and fines, but did not pro­vide a fig­ure for mon­ey that has been recouped by the gov­ern­ment. Finland has esti­mat­ed that it has recov­ered over 1 mil­lion euros (about $1.2 mil­lion) as a result of the inves­ti­ga­tion, but was not able to con­firm the exact amount.

Additionally, media part­ners in Belgium and Denmark pro­vid­ed ICIJ with new infor­ma­tion in 2021 that out­lines the dis­tinc­tion between mon­ey claimed and mon­ey recov­ered, so we have revised our num­bers in those coun­tries to accu­rate­ly reflect mon­ey that has been received by the gov­ern­ment (which is why the num­bers in those coun­tries are low­er than pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed). Both gov­ern­ments have also claimed addi­tion­al tax­es and penal­ties that have not been recov­ered yet.

And there are still more coun­tries where the response has been mut­ed. According to ICIJ’s Hungarian part­ner Andras Petho, “When the Panama Papers sto­ry broke, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and oth­er senior gov­ern­ment offi­cials made state­ments promis­ing to inves­ti­gate the Hungarian rev­e­la­tion, but … those inquiries did not lead to results.”

The tax author­i­ty launched inves­ti­ga­tions into two cas­es we revealed, but these inquiries were closed with­out indict­ing any­one,” Petho said. “There have been no announce­ments of any oth­er Panama Papers-relat­ed inves­ti­ga­tions, let alone mon­ey recovered.”

Measuring more than money

The impact of the Panama Papers extends far beyond recov­er­ing lost tax rev­enue. Authorities in mul­ti­ple coun­tries are con­tin­u­ing to pur­sue civ­il and crim­i­nal cas­es over alleged mon­ey laun­der­ing, fraud and oth­er allegations.

In Argentina, accord­ing to report­ing by ICIJ mem­bers Mariel Fitz Patrick and Iván Ruiz, the broth­ers of for­mer President Mauricio Macri are on tri­al for mon­ey laun­der­ing after fail­ing to declare $4 mil­lion in a Swiss account held in the name of an off­shore com­pa­ny found in the Panama Papers. A request for dis­missal has been reject­ed by a fed­er­al judge, and Argentina’s tax agency has suc­cess­ful­ly request­ed to be list­ed as a com­plainant because the Macris’ actions con­sti­tut­ed “aggra­vat­ed eva­sion” of taxes.

In France, ICIJ part­ners Maxime Vaudano and Jeremie Baruch report that as of January 2021, in addi­tion to hun­dreds of ongo­ing pro­ceed­ings con­duct­ed by the tax agency, the office of the French finan­cial pros­e­cu­tor was still pur­su­ing 15 inves­ti­ga­tions that could poten­tial­ly result in jail time.

In Malta, the rev­e­la­tions in the Panama Papers formed part of an inves­ti­ga­tion into Keith Schembri, chief of staff to for­mer Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Schembri, who resigned in November 2019 after being ques­tioned dur­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion into the 2017 mur­der of inves­tiga­tive reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia (he was released with­out charges), was charged in March 2021 with mon­ey laun­der­ing, cor­rup­tion, fraud and forgery, in rela­tion to his secret off­shore holdings.

And although the United States has not offi­cial­ly report­ed recov­er­ing any back tax­es as a result of the Panama Papers, accoun­tant Richard Gaffey — the first American charged in con­nec­tion to the inves­ti­ga­tion — plead­ed guilty to crimes includ­ing con­spir­a­cy to com­mit tax eva­sion and defraud the United States and was sen­tenced in September 2020 to over three years in prison.

One of Gaffey’s clients, Harald Joachim von der Goltzwas also sen­tenced to prison in September for wire and tax fraud, mon­ey laun­der­ing, and oth­er charges com­mit­ted while he was a U.S. res­i­dent. And in March 2021, new­ly uncov­ered court doc­u­ments showed that von der Goltz’s son, Joachim Alexander von der Goltz, had plead­ed guilty to finan­cial crimes in December of 2019 and repaid the gov­ern­ment more than $230,000.

Contributors: Andras Petho, Frédéric Zalac, James Oliver, Jan Kleinnijenhuis, Jeremie Baruch, John Hansen, Kristof Clerix, Leo Sisti, Marcos Garcia Rey, Mariel Fitz Patrick, Mario Christodolou, Mauritius Much, Maxime Vaudano, Minna Knus-Galán, Nina Selbo Torset, Paolo Biondani, Ritu Sarin, Yasuomi Sawa, Zach Dubinsky

Sean McGoey, ICIJ

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