A huge leak of data from Panama has exposed a web of secret offshore companies that has allegedly been used to hide wealth, evade taxes and launder money. Hundreds of politicians, business people and sportspeople, including 72 current or former heads of state, have been implicated in the findings published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), The Financial Times reports.
The private legal documents, totaling 2.6 terabytes of data and reviewed by more than 370 journalists from 76 countries, constitute one of the largest leaks of sensitive documents in history, far eclipsing WikiLeaks’ State Department cables and Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency revelations, analyst Michael Weiss writes for The Daily Beast.
The WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables proved to be mildly embarrassing to the United States, but deeply problematic for many authoritarian countries, Tufts University’s Daniel Drezner writes for The Washington Post:
That’s largely because the cables revealed candid diplomatic assessments of corruption and perfidy in the rest of the world. Five years ago, many of those authoritarian regimes proved less resilient to this kind of transparency than Western democracies.
Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer warned that the revelations could threaten the stability of some regimes like Russia.
“Vladimir Putin is directly caught up in this,” he told CNBC Monday….
….claiming that the $2 billion could be “a tiny fraction of how much the Kremlin has actually been laundering.” Russia, in particular, could respond aggressively, Bremmer added. Given that the ICIJ was partially funded by billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, the Kremlin may wish to respond, he noted.
“I feel fairly confident that the Kremlin will be going after the U.S., Soros, the CIA and this is going to make Russian policy towards the U.S. actually much more sharp and antagonistic,” he said.
“That’s the kind of thing authoritarian governments need to do to take forced transparency that makes them look bad at home, they have to gin up trouble with enemies abroad.”
But the West may not be well-placed to take advantage of autocrats’ vulnerabilities, says a prominent analyst-activist.
Recently, Freedom House released its latest Freedom in the World report, finding “an overall drop in freedom for the ninth consecutive year.” It is no coincidence that this has happened as history’s greatest defender of freedom, the United States, has abdicated that role, argues Garry Kasparov, the chairman of the NY-based Human Rights Foundation and the author of “Winter is Coming:”
The old menaces of the 20th century have reappeared in updated forms. Communism as a political ideology is as bankrupt as ever, but the aggressive despotism that enforced it for decades before the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union has returned to the world stage, due largely to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States, a global hegemon alternately over-eager or reluctant, has reacted in dramatically inconsistent ways to the new threats while mostly ignoring the resurgence of the old ones.