A massive, anonymous leak of financial documents from a Panamanian law firm has revealed an extensive worldwide network of offshore "shell" companies — including ones with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin — that allow the wealthy to hide their assets from taxes and, in some cases, to launder billions in cash, a German newspaper alleges.
The documents, combed through in the past year by dozens of journalists worldwide, show links to 72 current or former heads of state, including dictators accused of looting their own countries.
The data reveal details of secret offshore companies linked to families and associates of Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak, Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syria's president Bashar Assad, among others.
It also alleges a billion-dollar money laundering ring run by a Russian bank tied to associates of Putin. The bank allegedly channeled money through offshore companies, two of which were officially owned by one of the Russian president's closest friends.
"I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," said Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., which coordinated the reporting.