The Panama Papers—11.5 million leaked documents that detail the inner workings of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm accused of helping drug lords, sports stars, Ponzi schemers, kings, presidents, prime ministers, FIFA officials, Mafia members, high-profile thieves, high-ranking politicians, and at least one convicted sex offender launder money, evade taxes, and escape criminal prosecution—are a big deal.
Mossack Fonseca has ties to the £26 million [$37 million] Brink’s-MAT robbery of 1983, which British media called “the crime of the century.” Thirty-three of its clients have been blacklisted by the US government for allegedly doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations, and “rogue nations” like North Korea and Iran. Its files have unearthed a secret, shady $2 billion trail of money that leads to Vladimir Putin. One of its clients played a crucial role in the Watergate scandal. Another was convicted for the torture and murder of a US drug enforcement agent.
With a story this big—dubbed by Edward Snowden as “the biggest leak in the history of data journalism"—it can be difficult to understand exactly what’s at stake. The Panama Papers are, unquestionably, insane. But what do they have to do with you?
If you live in one of the 200 countries and territories that Mossack Fonseca’s clients call home—and, given the fact you’re reading this article, you probably do—the story of the Panama Papers is your story. The money the law firm helps to hide should be used to pay for your schools, your highways, your hospitals. The criminals it works with run the most violent illegal organizations your country has ever seen. The politicians who have taken and made bribes, dodged taxes, and amassed fortunes of unimaginable scale are your politicians.