About the Panama Papers

By Frederik Obermaier, Bastian Obermayer, Vanessa Wormer and Wolfgang Jaschensky

Over a year ago, an anonymous source contacted the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and submitted encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that sells anonymous offshore companies around the world. These shell companies enable their owners to cover up their business dealings, no matter how shady.

In the months that followed, the number of documents continued to grow far beyond the original leak. Ultimately, SZ acquired about 2.6 terabytes of data, making the leak the biggest that journalists had ever worked with. The source wanted neither financial compensation nor anything else in return, apart from a few security measures.

The data provides rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows. It proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous: from politicians, Fifa officials, fraudsters and drug smugglers, to celebrities and professional athletes.

A group effort

The Süddeutsche Zeitung decided to analyze the data in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). ICIJ had already coordinated the research for past projects that SZ was also involved in, among them Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, and Swiss Leaks. Panama Papers is the biggest-ever international cooperation of its kind. In the past 12 months, around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents. These have included teams from theGuardian and the BBC in England, Le Monde in France, and La Naciónin Argentina. In Germany, SZ journalists have cooperated with their colleagues from two public broadcasters, NDR and WDR. Journalists from the Swiss Sonntagszeitung and the Austrian weekly Falter have also worked on the project, as have their colleagues at ORF, Austria’s national public broadcaster. The international team initially met in Washington, Munich, Lillehammer and London to map out the research approach.

Making of

Watch the video

The data

The Panama Papers include approximately 11.5 million documents – more than the combined total of the Wikileaks Cablegate, Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, and Swiss Leaks. The data primarily comprises e-mails, pdf files, photo files, and excerpts of an internal Mossack Fonseca database. It covers a period spanning from the 1970s to the spring of 2016.


Moreover, the journalists crosschecked a large number of documents, including passport copies. About two years ago, a whistleblower had already sold internal Mossack Fonseca data to the German authorities, but the dataset was much older and smaller in scope: while it addressed a few hundred offshore companies, the Panama Papers provide data on some 214,000 companies. In the wake of the data purchase, last year investigators searched the homes and offices of about 100 people. The Commerzbank was also raided. As a consequence of their business dealings with Mossack Fonseca, Commerzbank, HSH Nordbank, and Hypovereinsbank agreed to pay fines of around 20 million euros, respectively. Since then, other countries have also acquired data from the initial smaller leak, among them the United States, the UK, and Iceland.

The system

The leaked data is structured as follows: Mossack Fonseca created a folder for each shell firm. Each folder contains e-mails, contracts, transcripts, and scanned documents. In some instances, there are several thousand pages of documentation. First, the data had to be systematically indexed to make searching through this sea of information possible. To this end, the Süddeutsche Zeitung used Nuix, the same program that international investigators work with.Süddeutsche Zeitung and ICIJ uploaded millions of documents onto high-performance computers. They applied optical character recognition (OCR) to transform data into machine-readable and easy to search files. The process turned images – such as scanned IDs and signed contracts – into searchable text. This was an important step: it enabled journalists to comb through as large a portion of the leak as possible using a simple search mask similar to Google.The journalists compiled lists of important politicians, international criminals, and well-known professional athletes, among others. The digital processing made it possible to then search the leak for the names on these lists. The “party donations scandal” list contained 130 names, and the UN sanctions list more than 600. In just a few minutes, the powerful search algorithm compared the lists with the 11.5 million documents.

The research

For each name found, a detailed research process was initiated that posed the following questions: what is this person’s role in the network of companies? Where does the money come from? Where is it going? Is this structure legal?Generally speaking, owning an offshore company is not illegal in itself. In fact, establishing an offshore company can be seen as a logical step for a broad range of business transactions. However, a look through the Panama Papers very quickly reveals that concealing the identities of the true company owners was the primary aim in the vast majority of cases. From the outset, the journalists had their work cut out for them. The providers of offshore companies – among them banks, lawyers, and investment advisors – often keep their clients’ names secret and use proxies. In turn, the proxies’ tracks then lead to heads of state, important officials, and millionaires. Over the course of the international project, journalists cooperated with one another to investigate thousands of leads: they examined evidence, studied contracts, and spoke with experts.

Among others, Mossack Fonsecas’ clients include criminals and members of various Mafia groups. The documents also expose bribery scandals and corrupt heads of state and government. The alleged offshore companies of twelve current and former heads of state make up one of the most spectacular parts of the leak, as do the links to other leaders, and to their families, closest advisors, and friends. The Panamanian law firm also counts almost 200 other politicians from around the globe among its clients, including a number of ministers.

The company

The company at the center of all these stories is Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian provider of offshore companies with dozens of offices all over the world. It sells its shell firms in cities such as Zurich, London, and Hong Kong – in some instances at bargain prices. Clients can buy an anonymous company for as little as USD 1,000. However, at this price it is just an empty shell. For an extra fee, Mossack Fonseca provides a sham director and, if desired, conceals the company’s true shareholder. The result is an offshore company whose true purpose and ownership structure is indecipherable from the outside. Mossack Fonseca has founded, sold, and managed thousands of companies. The documents provide a detailed view of how Mossack Fonseca routinely accepts to engage in business activities that potentially violate sanctions, in addition to aiding and abetting tax evasion and money laundering.



The number of Africans who have illegally traveled through Panama on their way to the United Sates has more than doubled so far this year, reaching more than 700, according to a Spanish-language news report.

That figure only accounts for those who have been apprehended by Panamanian authorities. When apprehended the immigrants are not deported. They are allowed to pass through instead. The illegals spend no longer than a week in Panama.

According to an August 8 report by the Spanish EFE news agency that went largely unnoticed by English-language media, in 2015 alone, “708 Africans have crossed the Darien jungle [in Panama] in search of the American dream.”

In just one year, the number of immigrants from Africa who have traveled illegally through Panama on their way to the United Sates has increased by 134 percent, adds that report.

“They were not deported because it is difficult to do so. Their countries of origin have no diplomatic representation in Panama and the process becomes complicated. In addition they are in transit, so you let them go,” Domingo Flores, the migration supervisor for the areas of Darien and San Blas, told EFE.

The migrant and economic crisis affecting Europe and the open door policy of some Latin American countries such as Ecuador, are behind this “abysmal” surge of immigrants, explained Frank Abrego, the chief of Panama’s National Border Service.

Many African immigrants are choosing to travel through the “inhospitable and hostile” Panamanian jungle to reach the United States, rather than cross into Europe through the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea, described as a “cemetery,” notes the report.

“The United States is better than Europe, there are more opportunities for us there, and it is much safer. The [Mediterranean] sea and the Sahara desert (Morocco) are extremely dangerous,” an Eritrean told EFE in perfect English, choosing not to give his name.

The vast majority of Africans traveling through Central America are males from Somalia, a failed state troubled by famine and Islamist terrorism, adds EFE.

“I almost died. That jungle is hell,” added Abdi Wahab Ali Osman, a 29-year-old Somalian, describing his journey through Panama’s Darien territory, nearly 8,000 square miles of tropical rainforest along the Colombia-Panama border controlled by drug traffickers and guerrillas from Colombia.

Somalia, Eritrea, and other African countries are found on a list of 35 nations described in a November 2004 U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) memo as “special interest countries.”

The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security described special interest countries as those “that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members.”

Human trafficking “mafias” charge the African immigrants who end up traveling through Panama between $3,000 and $4,000 for an airline ticket to Brazil and Ecuador. From there, they travel to the border between Colombia and Panama where they encounter the immense and roadless Darien jungle, where they have to travel by foot for four or five days.

The human traffickers “wait for no man,” an 18-year-old man from Somalia told EFE on condition of anonymity.

Many immigrants die in the Darien jungle, “defeated by fatigue and the elements,” reports the Spanish news agency.

Africans are not the only foreign nationals trying to reach the U.S. through the Panamanian rain forest. Many of them are from Nepal.

According to a Panamanian border agency, 215 Nepalese immigrants crossed the Darien jungle in just the last two weeks of July, 150 more than during the same period in 2014.

During the Ebola outbreak in Africa last year, Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, warned that a “large percentage” of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the United States through Mexico are from West Africa.

He noted that West Africans are traveling through Central America on their way to the United States.

In March 2015, Gen. Kelly cautioned that Islamic extremists could exploit the knowledge of human trafficking organizations in Latin America to infiltrate the U.S.

He added that foreign nationals from countries like Somalia, where Islamist terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and al Shabaab are known to operate, could be seeking to enter the U.S. to do Americans harm.

Gen. Kelly mentioned that a group of Liberians were spotted on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border on their way into the U.S. illegally. Costa Rica borders Panama.

Breitbart News, citing a leaked report from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), reported that illegal aliens from Somalia with ties to terrorist organizations have been working to bring other suspected terrorists into America through the Texas border.

In 2014, at least 474 illegals from terrorist-linked countries, some of them located in Africa, were apprehended trying to enter the U.S.

One Diagram That Will Change the Way You Look At the world Economy

21 July 2015

The US is by far the largest economy in the World, with a nominal GDP of $17.4 trillion in 2014.However, it is not the World leader in all economic sectors: the US is a service-based economy, with a smaller focus on agriculture and industry than other countries (though its industrial and agricultural sectors are still the second- and third-largest in the World due to the sheer size of the US economy).

The graphic above (Voroni diagram) represents the relative size of each country’s economy in terms of nominal GDP: the larger the area, the larger the size of the economy. The areas are further divided into three sectors: services, industrial, and agricultural. The US economy is mostly composed of companies engaged in providing services (79.7% compared to the global average of 63.6%), while agriculture and industry make up smaller-than-average of portions of the economy (1.12% and 19.1% compared to averages of 5.9% and 30.5%).

The next largest economy, China, is roughly balanced between industry and services (though the service sector is growing at a faster rate), with a 9.1% contribution from agriculture. In this sense, China is a bit of an anomaly: other rich countries have service sectors that greatly outweigh both industry and agriculture. Over the past several decades, China has leveraged its competitive advantage and designed industrial policies to incent manufacturing in the country. But as China grows, it will continue to transition to a service-based economy. Similarly, India will see a decrease in agriculture’s contribution to its GDP and an increase in the size of the service sector.

Over time, the service sectors of developed nations have tended to grow relative to the other sectors. But are there limits to this trend? What is the natural size of each sector?

If you have any thoughts on this subject, drop us a line! We would love your feedback.

Sign up below for a future update from HowMuch on the release of its super-detailed cost of living analysis, based on geography and demographics

The 2015 edition of the ranking has been released

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) publishes the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions.
CWUR uses eight objective and robust indicators to rank the world’s top 1000 universities:

1) Quality of Education, measured by the number of a university’s alumni who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals relative to the university’s size [25%]
2) Alumni Employment, measured by the number of a university’s alumni who have held CEO positions at the world’s top companies relative to the university’s size [25%]
3) Quality of Faculty, measured by the number of academics who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals [25%]
4) Publications, measured by the number of research papers appearing in reputable journals [5%]
5) Influence, measured by the number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals [5%]
6) Citations, measured by the number of highly-cited research papers [5%]
7) Broad Impact, measured by the university’s h-index [5%]
8) Patents, measured by the number of international patent filings [5%]
In addition to providing consultation for governments and universities, the Center for World University Rankings aims to provide the most comprehensive university rankings available, which are trusted by students, academics, university administrators, and government officials from around the world.

We have listed the top 20 and the last 20 universities from the ranking.

Top 20 Universities

Top 20 Universities

Last 20 Universities

Last 20 Universities

Cattle Dying as Seasonal Rains Fail in Parts of Ethiopia

Seasonal rains have failed to materialize in some parts of Ethiopia, causing deaths of many cattle and other animals, officials and residents said on Monday.

While the government is not calling the situation in parts of northern, northeastern and eastern Ethiopia a drought, the impact is taking a toll.

Adamu Kebede, a truck driver, told The Associated Press he has seen hundreds of cattle lying dead along the main road that stretches from the Addis Ababa to the Afar Region’s capital, Semera. He said he has also seen dozens of trucks unloading emergency food aid.

The government said it is stockpiling food to prevent a shortage.

“The government has enough food stock and it is assisting farmers to continue their farming practices with improved seed items and drought-resistant crops,” Wondimu Filate, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, told AP.

Impacts of climate change often weigh heavily on Ethiopia’s smallholder farmers.

Rain-fed agriculture is the primary driver of the Ethiopian economy, contributing to nearly 45 percent of the country’s GDP and employing 85 percent of its population.

History, Policy to Shape Obama’s Africa Trip

Women in Nairobi posed for a photograph in front of a painting depicting President Barack Obama on Thursday, the eve of the president’s arrival in Kenya.

Women in Nairobi posed for a photograph in front of a painting depicting President Barack Obama on Thursday, the eve of the president’s arrival in Kenya. PHOTO: SIMON MAINA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Obama plans to showcase initiatives he hopes will define his Africa legacy, such as steps to increase access to electricity.

He will move on to Ethiopia, meeting with the African Union on matters of trade, business and security, as U.S. officials have voiced growing concerns over the rise of extremism.

But his arrival in Nairobi on Friday is in itself a hallmark moment for his presidency. For Mr. Obama, it isn’t so much what he does, but who he is that ties him to the continent—and to Kenya in particular—and sets him apart from other U.S. presidents who have invested resources in Africa.

His two-day visit is widely seen as a homecoming of sorts, as the first African-American U.S. president returning to a country that considers him a native son.

Mr. Obama plans to spend time with members of his father’s family. He will meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, hold an event with young African leaders and reflect on his familial roots in a speech at an indoor sports arena.

“He’s looking forward to the trip and the opportunity to spend some time in private with some of his relatives,” said Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s national-security adviser.

A customer looked at a T-shirt displaying the image of President Barack Obama at a stall in Nairobi’s Kibera slum on Thursday, a day before the president’s scheduled arrival in Kenya.

A customer looked at a T-shirt displaying the image of President Barack Obama at a stall in Nairobi’s Kibera slum on Thursday, a day before the president’s scheduled arrival in Kenya.

A customer looked at a T-shirt displaying the image of President Barack Obama at a stall in Nairobi’s Kibera slum on Thursday, a day before the president’s scheduled arrival in Kenya. PHOTO: NOOR KHAMIS/REUTERS

Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 raised expectations across Africa for deeper American engagement. But his foreign-policy agenda has largely been consumed by unrest in the Middle East and efforts to strengthen U.S. ties in Asia.

Former President George W. Bush was heralded for his efforts to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa, and his predecessor,Bill Clinton, spearheaded a host of economic initiatives on the continent. Mr. Obama, however, hasn’t showcased Africa initiatives until more recently, after his 2012 re-election, in part because of the political backlash stirred by his Kenyan roots.

During his first term, Mr. Obama spent about a day in sub-Saharan Africa, with a brief visit to Ghana.

His trip this week is part of a renewed focus on the continent in the homestretch of his presidency. It follows his gathering of African leaders in Washington last year, and his 2013 trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

Entrepreneurs are betting on an Obama bonanza when the U.S. president makes his first trip to Kenya as commander-in-chief. In the village of Kogelo, where Mr. Obama’s father was born, close and distant relatives are cashing in on the family name. Photo: Nichole Sobecki for The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Obama is expected to use the platforms in Kenya and Ethiopia to highlight programs to combat hunger and his 2013 electricity initiative, Power Africa, which has been slow to expand. White House officials said he also plans to raise human rights, corruption and democracy concerns.

During a news conference last week, he described such governance issues in Kenya as having “held back this incredibly gifted and blessed country.

Indeed, Mr. Kenyatta had until last December faced charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. The prosecutor withdrew the charges.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s ruling party won all seats in Parliament this year, a result the White House has said raises concerns about the integrity of that election.

Africa is also increasingly a security concern for the U.S., with the rise of al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups in the east and Islamic State’s expansion in the west and north.

“Counterterrorism will certainly be a focus,” Ms. Rice said.

Kenyan officials have said they hope Mr. Obama will focus on how Kenya and the U.S. can collaborate on business—both bringing in large U.S. companies and helping nurture Kenya as a location for film production.

But much of the two countries’ collaboration currently is in the realm of security—the U.S. trains Kenyan soldiers and shares intelligence in the effort to keep extremist militants from al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab at bay.

Mr. Obama’s 49-year-old half-uncle, Said Obama, said his nephew’s visit to Kenya has been eagerly awaited.

“It would have looked very bad if he had left office without visiting Kenya,” he said, adding, “The people of Kenya are proud of him because of his achievements, though I can also say that there were very unrealistic expectations. People thought that being the president of America he was going to develop this place, do very many things.”

In Nairobi, a massive city-beautification effort has been under way for weeks in preparation for Mr. Obama’s arrival. New roads have opened, and highway medians have been adorned with flowers. Residents are jokingly calling the efforts “Obamacare.” Street hawkers, meanwhile, are selling American flags and T-shirts welcoming Mr. Obama “home.”

“There’s huge excitement in Kenya and perhaps excessive expectations of what this trip might deliver,” said Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Unlike Mr. Obama’s previous trips to Kenya—he most recently visited as a senator in 2006—, this one is constrained by the trappings of the presidency. He won’t travel to Kogelo, the rural village about six hours outside of Nairobi where his father was born and where some of his family still lives. Instead, his relatives will travel to see him, attending his public events in the Kenyan capital and a state dinner hosted by Mr. Kenyatta.

White House officials said security and logistical concerns required the president to remain in Nairobi. For Mr. Obama, that somewhat diminishes the personal resonance of the experience.

“I’ll be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference center,” Mr. Obama said last week. “But it’s obviously symbolically important.”

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com and Heidi Vogt at heidi.vogt@wsj.com