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JournalistWe're the ICIJ journalists behind the Panama Papers investigation (which we released two years ago today) We're here to answer your questions about the Panama Papers (and the Paradise Papers if you'd like).

Apr 3rd 2018 by ICIJ • 22 Questions • 8479 Points

Hello! We're Will Fitzgibbon and Hamish Boland-Rudder (with a bit of help from Amy Wilson-Chapman) from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists!

Will and Hamish worked on the Panama Papers investigation that was released two years ago - today! We thought we'd take this chance to answer any new questions you have, and give you any updates we can.

Will Fitzgibbon is an investigative reporter and our Africa coordinator.

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Hamish Boland-Rudder is ICIJ's online editor.

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Amy Wilson-Chapman is ICIJ’s community engagement editor. She didn't work on the Panama Papers but may help Hamish and Will along the way today with more general questions.

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We always try our best to answer all your questions, but we often get asked specific questions relating to our research and what we found in our data! We'll try our best, but we're a small team - so please don't take it personally.

**Update 6.37pm ET** Thanks for playing guys! We're going to take off for the night. You can leave a question and we'll attempt to get it answered in the next couple days if you like. Thanks as always for supporting our work!

Q:

Two years on- do you feel the worldwide response to the Panama Papers has been commensurate with the importance of this exposé?

A:

I think there's a lot more to do. But, when I take a step back, there's been a hell of a lot of impact and reform, too. Some of those are big changes -- laws in Panama, Germany and elsewhere. But in some countries, it's a change in the fact that now people think more about secretive shell companies and how powerful citizens use them to the disadvantage of others. Will


Q:

I'll be honest, didn't even know this AMA was going on until it hit the front page

A:

We could have done more to promote it too, sorry about that. We're going to try and do another with our data team sometime soon. But we can only do so much!


Q:

How much actual justice was served based on all the hard work you did?

A:

Hi herdherfer. Let's be honest -- lots of people got away with stashing money offshore. In many countries, no investigations were started because the Big Fish were just too big. But we've seen lots of other countries where hundreds of millions of dollars in total has been recouped and where prosecutions have started.


Q:

Any people relevant to the US that are likely to or have already faced prosecution?

A:

Good question! Very hard to find out as the US doesn't speak openly about this stuff. The FBI did tell me in an FOI recently that they couldn't provide any hard information due to ongoing probes. So maybe there is something afoot. Will


Q:

There was someone who started leaking out details of the Paradise Papers on /r/conspiracy last year, about a month before the actual reporting was released. Is that something you were aware of?

A:

We were aware of the posts on Reddit... but thats all. It wasn’t something anyone at ICIJ did. - Amy


Q:

What was the most unexpected consequence of the Panama Papers?

A:

Protesters throwing yogurt in Iceland. I would never have thought to use that as a tool of resistance. - Will


Q:

Being Iceland it was probably skyr

A:

It sure was!


Q:

That's bad

A:

Hi there. I'll always remember the email I came across about Iran and when members of the law firm thought they might be doing business, ultimately, with the former president. "I think we could assume that would be mahmoud ahmadinejad unless I'm mistaken." Not the kind of surprise you want during a normal day in the office.


Q:

How would you describe Julian Assange's reaction to your methods?

#PanamaPapers Putin attack was produced by OCCRP which targets Russia & former USSR and was funded by USAID & Soros.

https://mobile.twitter.com/wikileaks/status/717458064324964352

Paradise Papers are great and improvement on Panama Papers. but the basic problem, gate keeping nearly everything forever, is still present.

https://mobile.twitter.com/julianassange/status/927541866396037121

A:

We like to think we're improving with every investigation as well!

ICIJ is in the business of public service journalism, and we'll never publish personal, private information en masse without first vetting it and ensuring it's of public interest. All of our stories go through a rigorous fact and legal checking process, and are only published if they meet the highest journalistic standard.

Our Offshore Leaks Database includes corporate data that you'd ordinarily find on any open corporate registry - except that a lot of this data is from jurisdictions that don't have open or easily accessible registries available online. Plus, we might have a bit of bias, but we think our data is a little easier to search.

On the Russian side of things, Putin never really contested our findings - he just said his friends and acquaintances had done nothing wrong (e.g. see this response: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/07/putin-dismisses-panama-papers-as-an-attempt-to-destabilise-russia). You be the judge.

ICIJ does not take money from USAID or any US government agency. We are open about our funders (including our funding from the Open Society Foundation, which was founded by George Soros), who have absolutely no control over our editorial output - which is exactly why they fund us! They are supporting completely independent journalism. -Hamish


Q:

I am surprised no one has asked, but what was the impact on Putin personally?

A:

Hi, mirror_scotty. Hard to say on this. I don't have a direct line to him. But, by many accounts, he wasn't happy. There's a link here to a US intelligence agency report that mentions Panama Papers and Putin in the context of what happened in US election interference. Will. https://www.icij.org/investigations/panama-papers/panama-papers-revisited-yogurt-bananas-small-moustaches-fonts/


Q:

Did you fear for your safety?

A:

Hi Adaraie. I work at ICIJ's Washington D.C. office so I wasn't really concerned for my safety. But I was definitely concerned for some of our partners who report in really tough environments. There was lots of nasty online abuse, law suit threats and some of our partners even had to leave their countries for a few days until things calmed down. Here's a little look at that topic I wrote about: https://www.icij.org/investigations/panama-papers/20161201-journalists-face-backlash/ - Will


Q:

Who are your journalistic inspirations?

A:

From my perspective given what I do at ICIJ, it's definitely the awesome investigative journalists in Africa we work with. Moussa Aksar in Niger, Maxime Domegni in Togo, Sandrine Sawadogo in Burkina Faso, Shino Imannuel in Namibia, Alvin Ntibinyane in Botswana. These people do really great work and get amazing documents and access through pure hard work. - Will


Q:

Who are your journalistic inspirations?

A:

+1 starting local is the best. You learn so much (and get a thick skin!) by being a reporter in a local community. - Amy


Q:

(1) Someone was mentioning to me that few if any Americans were exposed by the Panama/Paradise Papers because the US Gov does a pretty good job of tracking Americans that attempt to use these services and using extraterritorial prosecution to punish them for US tax evasion. Is this broadly correct?

(2) If the above assertion is broadly correct, this gives the US Gov/Intelligence Community (IC) a motive to help in exposing the Panama/Paradise Papers as the downside is likely to be overwhelmingly felt by the foreign elites of US strategic competitors. I'm definitely not accusing you of being US IC, but is it possible they assisted you without your knowledge?

A:

There are a few nuances hidden deep in the weeds of these investigations that are important to understand... and it all boils down to the nature of the information leaked to us. The Panama and Paradise Papers were (largely) from just three offshore service providers - three out of hundreds. So, although the data is extremely comprehensive and there's a lot of it, it's still only a snapshot of a much, much larger industry.

We know that Mossack Fonseca (Panama Papers) didn't have many U.S. clients (they themselves said this), and we also know that Appleby (Paradise Papers) did have a lot more U.S. clients, which is why the Paradise Papers included more stories on prominent Americans (such as people linked to Donald Trump and his administration).

We also know that some U.S. states (e.g. Delaware) have been labelled tax havens and already offer financial secrecy without people having to go offshore.

The U.S. does try to tax its citizens around the world. But it's also home to multinational corporations that have perfected the art of tax avoidance.

So, with all that said and done... you can see that it's a hugely complicated situation. In terms of the U.S. intelligence communities and their motivations? Hopefully they're busy chasing down criminals, and not meddling in journalism. -Hamish


Q:

Do you think the Panama Papers had an effect on the 2016 election?

A:

The U.S. election? The best guide on this probably comes from the various intelligence agencies that have been looking into external influences on the election. Here's a piece from the New York Times that sums up what the intelligence agencies found: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/us/politics/russian-hack-report.html

-Hamish


Q:

Thanks for your fantastic work and efforts! One of the things I've been waiting for for quite some time is the involvement of AI in investigations, even if it's just the use of AI truth detection algorithms on videos to track down potential leads. But with lawyers starting to use AI to assist them, have journalists also found uses for that to supplement their work?

A:

Good question! I'm not from ICIJ's data team, so I'm no expert in the wizardry they perform to make our data searchable, but I do know they're always experimenting with new technology to help make the lives of our reporters easier and help us get more from our data.

I don't think we've used AI much, but I know we're looking at improving entity extraction from within large datasets, and have made a lot of headway with getting journalists to use more powerful database tools (like graph databases through Neo4j and Linkurious), particularly when it comes to recognising patterns in networked data.

We do encourage our data gurus and tech geniuses to document their processes and write about the technology they use (and the tech trends they're following) on our blog, so we'll pass your question on and see if we can't squeeze a post out of them about AI and journalism sometime in the not-too-distant future!

-Hamish


Q:

Hello. Am I late at the party?

My question is Do you think globally, the articles blocked some money to be transfered in paradises? Or was it bad for Panama and good for others?

A:

It's still early here in Australia (I'm based in Sydney), so you're fine! Welcome!

I think the global attention has certainly changed the game for these offshore law and wealth management firms, and has helped force a lot of tax havens to clean up their acts. But if there's one thing offshore service providers are good at, it's finding new loopholes when old ones close.

So here we are, two years later, still investigating financial secrecy and encouraging transparency... send us your tips! -Hamish


Q:

send us your tips!

If we get some, what would be the best course to contact the ICIJ team?

A:

If you want to contact us securely there is a few ways listed here!


Q:

Nawaz Sharif and his children had their name on the list and yet they deny it. What do you have to say to them?

A:

Howdy! Hamish actually answered this in another question yesterday, so I thought I'd share that here. - Amy

Our job as journalists is to investigate and bring issues of public interest to light. It's then up to society to respond - which can take the form of official action (investigations, arrests), court decisions, parliamentary debates, public discussions and more. That's why it's so important that when we publish, we get it right.

We stand by all our Panama Papers reporting, including our stories on the Pakistani Prime Minister's family and their links to offshore companies. How the authorities and the public chose to respond was entirely up to their democratic system. -Hamish


Q:

do you find it interesting how such a big story disappeared so quickly from the news ?

A:

As a journalist, I think this is a growing battle for every important story (not just ours). There is so much information flying around these days, we like to think ICIJ is just one of a cohort of trusted media outlets for our readers. - Amy


Q:

Why won't you allow the public to inspect the original content as other sites such as Wikileaks?

A:

We get asked this a bit... As Hamish explained earlier, we are in the business of public service journalism, and we'll never publish personal, private information en masse without first vetting it and ensuring it's of public interest.

All of our stories go through a rigorous fact and legal checking process, and are only published if they meet the highest journalistic standard.

Our Offshore Leaks Database includes corporate data that you'd ordinarily find on any open corporate registry - except that a lot of this data is from jurisdictions that don't have open or easily accessible registries available online. Plus, we might have a bit of bias, but we think our data is a little easier to search.

-Amy


Q:

What are you most proud of in regards to the consequences that have occurred following the release of the Panama Papers?

What's the dream/goal y'all have been striving for when it comes to the consequences and justice that must be imposed on the perpetrators?

What do you feel has been overlooked?

Are you guys getting more anonymous tips now? Anything about UFOs yet?

A:

So many anonymous tips. I'm convinced that there will be more big projects like Panama Papers in the future. So we'd be crazy not to check our mail, our inbox, Secure Drop, Signal, etc. All the ways ICIJ has for people to contact us.

I think one of the best results of Panama Papers was making offshore finance and its flaws more of a public issue than ever. The more light that is shone on it, the harder it will be for some people to misuse it.