The biggest data leak in history just exposed the world's rich and powerful

An obscure law firm in Central America is the source of what’s being called the largest information leak in history.

Emails and documents reveal how the world’s richest and most powerful, from Vladimir Putin to the prime minister of Iceland, hide their business dealings using offshore tax havens and shell companies.

For the past year, hundreds of journalists from around the world secretly analysed terabytes of data uncovered from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm with offices around the world. Their findings were collectively published on April 3 as the Panama Papers.  

How did this all start?

Munich DLDBusiness InsiderSüddeutsche Zeitung is published in Munich, Germany.

About a year ago, an anonymous source contacted German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung with data from Mossack Fonseca, a relatively unknown law firm based in Panama that specialises in creating shell companies. These shell companies are held in countries with strict privacy laws and used to obfuscate business dealings.

Süddeutsche Zeitung partnered with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and over one hundred media partners to parse and report on the leaked data. Those media partners include the likes of the BBC and The Guardian.

What’s part of the leak?

The Panama Papers constitute more leaked data than the Wikileaks Cablegate, Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, and Swiss Leaks combined, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung. That makes this data leak the largest in recorded history with:

  • 2.6 terabytes of data from Mossack Fonseca’s founding in 1977 to December 2015
  • 11.5 million documents, including email correspondence and legal contracts
  • 214,000 shell companies used by 12 country leaders, 128 public officials, and 29 Forbes-listed billionaires 

What are the implications?

The wider implications of the Panama Papers have yet to be felt. What’s been initially published focuses heavily on money traced back to Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iceland prime minister 
Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson

Media outlets with access to the Panama Papers will likely publish more of their findings in the coming days and weeks.

Where can I find out more?

Süddeutsche Zeitung’s web hub for the Panama Papers is a good place to start. It features:

Fusion also has a larger look at how offshore companies work that’s worth checking out.

There’s also this video summary of the Panama Papers:

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