Since Monday, it’s the curse! Famous names are being thrown around without any proof of wrongdoing, while we should be asking ourselves why tax havens such as Panama, but also Delaware, can still exist. So what kind of journalism is this, asks Marie-Hélène Miauton?
In the “Panama Papers” affair, there are more unanswered questions than answers to real questions. A person (whose name is not revealed) delivers (for what purpose and for what consideration?) to the Süddeutsche Zeitung (why him?) files stolen (how?) from a Panamanian law firm specialized in offshore companies (why this one?), that is all the readers do not know. They only know that the German newspaper has entrusted the ICIJ, an independent network of journalists based in Washington, to process this mass of data. Does the US origin of this NGO explain why there are no American leaders denounced? Some venture to think so, but the important thing is elsewhere.
At a time when Obama is pretending to attack Delaware
This story breaks and targets Panama exactly at the moment when Obama announces his will to put an end to the opaque tax regime of Delaware (which we are waiting to see, as these announcements are rarely followed by effects in Uncle Sam). But how is it that the USA, great purveyors of tax havens – Switzerland knows something about this – did not clean up their act earlier? And why did the OECD, in its great tidying up of world tax practices, turn a blind eye to American tax havens? That’s what would be important to investigate, not whether Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so owns a company in Panama. In short, is it more serious that the wife of an Icelandic elected official opens an offshore account, or that the Democratic president of the world’s leading power tolerates, for the eight years he has been in power, hyperactive tax havens on his own territory, thus covering up a veritable industry of fraud and money laundering, at the same time as he bitterly denounces it elsewhere? To ask the question is to answer it.
Little regard for the presumption of innocence
The fact remains that prestigious names have been released in bulk to the public, without any specific offence being associated with them other than owning an offshore company, which in itself is not illegal. So what are these people guilty of? Nothing is said, but the suspicions inherent in these arrangements speak for themselves. While the damage is done to all the personalities mentioned and smeared, the ICIJ hypocritically warns that “there are legitimate reasons for creating offshore companies and many people declare them to their tax authorities, as required by law. The least we can say is that journalists who respect the presumption of innocence regarding criminals and other criminals, pay little attention to it when it comes to the powerful of this world. The basic rights of the accused, such as confidentiality, the assistance of a lawyer and the right to a fair trial, are flouted here. The media had a solution to respect these principles: after having processed the data, they could hand them over to their respective Justice, thus forcing it to act at the risk of further revelations.
How old are the facts?
Another big question in this case: when do the facts date from, because, in statistics, accumulating figures from 1977 to 2015 is called bullshit? Graphs summarizing the stolen data have been circulated, illustrating the banking institutions that supply clients in Panama. Of course, Switzerland is in the front row. This is serious and it is useful to know if the facts are subsequent to the great cleanup undertaken since 2010. If they are earlier, it is disinformation. Will we know?