If you’ve been wondering how to search the Panama Papers for specific companies or people, today’s your lucky day—the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published its searchable database at 1:00 CT today. According to the Chicago Tribune, 21 different tax havens made an appearance in the papers, and you can search the documents by name, company, and country. All told, 200,000 offshore companies are represented in the Panama Papers.
Dallas-based tax attorney Joe Garza says that while the Panama Papers have brought unwelcome scrutiny to some law-abiding citizens, the event is overwhelmingly positive. “Hopefully the publishing of these papers will keep government leaders more honest than have been in the past,” said Garza. “We are moving towards more financial transparency on a global scale, and that’s a good thing.”
In short, the Panama Papers constitute one of the largest data leaks history, both in scope and in effect. All 11.5 million files came from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, a firm specializing in offshore companies. All of the files now live on the ICIJ website. Among the politicians implicated in the files are Prime Minister David Cameron (his father started the offshore account, but David Cameron benefited) and Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, and even the states of Wyoming and Nevada are involved.
Visitors to the ICIJ’s database can now discover which individuals were using offshore tax havens, which companies were implicated, and how people, places, and companies are related. In short, we can see the entire tax-avoidance network of many high net worth individuals.
Owning an offshore account is not a crime in of itself—in fact, many upstanding individuals use offshore companies for the sake of estate planning and transferring foreign holdings. Anonymity is also a frequent reason for using overseas accounts. The problems arise when high net worth individuals try to use tax havens as a way to protect their income from paying taxes.
“Unfortunately, the dishonest dealings of a few individuals often bring negative scrutiny on everyone else,” said Joe Garza. “Many high net worth individuals are operating lawfully and within their rights, and oftentimes, their offshore accounts are solely for the sake of safety and anonymity.”
The aforementioned account created by David Cameron’s father, though, never paid taxes in the UK, all because he hired “a small army of Bahamas residents to sign the paperwork,” according the the Guardian. With such activity going on, tax havens will continue to receive “bad press” (and rightfully so), but Garza adds that legitimate owners of overseas accounts must ensure that they are properly declared with the IRS.