The “Panama Papers” is being called the biggest leak in the history of journalism.  More than 100 journalists from 80 countries worked on the investigation which leaked 11.5 million secret files from the database of the world’s fourth-largest offshore law firm, the Panama-based company Mossack Fonseca with more than 40 offices worldwide.

One of the founders, Ramon Fonseca said the leak was not caused by an insider but that the company was hacked by servers abroad.  The leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca showed how the world’s rich and powerful are able to hide their wealth and avoid taxes.

The files show how the law firm set up a global network of shell companies for heads of state, politicians, CEOs and celebrities to store their money offshore to avoid taxes and oversight.   At least 12 national leaders are among the more than 150 politicians implicated by the leak, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Iceland and the former vice president of Iraq.

The data also contains secret offshore companies linked to the families and associates of Egypt’s former President, Hosni Mubarak, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.  Several celebrities, including Jackie Chan and Amitabh Bachchan and soccer icon Lionel Messi, have also been named.  Being named in the papers, or connected to the offshore entities listed, does not constitute a suggestion of wrongdoing and Mossack Fonseca has vigorously denied any impropriety.

After mass protests, Iceland’s prime minister has resigned, becoming the first major casualty of the Panama Papers revelations.  The leaked documents revealed that Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson owned a Caribbean offshore company called Wintris with his wife, that concealed millions of dollars’ worth of family assets.

The documents show Gunnlaugsson and his wife purchased the company in 2007 to invest millions from the sale of a family business back in Iceland.  Gunnlaugsson did not declare his 50% stake in the company when entering parliament in 2009. He then sold his stake in the company to his wife for $1 on Dec. 31, 2009 —  the day before a new legislation would have required him to declare the ownership of Wintris as a conflict of interest.  He denies any wrongdoing but resigned amid the backlash of the leak.

The company says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and has never been charged with criminal wrong-doing.  The documents also shed light on how Mossack Fonseca offered financial services designed to help business clients hide their wealth.  The files have revealed how Mossack Fonseca has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and avoid taxes.

Mossack Fonseca provided a detailed response to the leak, saying among other things that “the parties listed in the documents leak, in many of the circumstances are not and have never been clients of Mossack Fonseca.” It also defended its compliance protocols and adherence to international laws, but added that its ability to actually regulate the companies registered by its clients is “legally and practically limited.”

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