It only took two days for the so-called Panama Papers to start taking a toll on global politics.
Just 48 hours after the document leak tying Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (along with a slew of other politicos and government personnel from around the globe) to shady shell corporations and dubious tax shelters orchestrated by the secretive Panamanian law firm Mossack Foneca, the self-proclaimed leftist who came to power on a platform of economic progressiveness stepped down in disgrace.
And if the international pundits are right, Gunnlaugsson will only be the first domino in a series of leaders who will have to resign or at least come up with some serious explanations for their constituents as to their financial actions.
The repercussions of the Panama Papers will be felt for a long time to come, since just sifting through 2.6 terabytes (yeah, I had to look that one up too: one terabyte equals 1 trillion bytes) is going to take years.
The massive stash of 11.5 million records carry implied and explicit acts of graft and fiscal malfeasance that could very well incriminate up to 140 statesmen and public officials and even more of the financial world’s most important movers and shakers.
The list of culprits reads like a Who’s Who of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful, and includes a broad range of leftist, rightist and even apolitical malefactors, from President Mauricio Macri of Argentina and President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Russian President Vladimir Putin and officials from the already-discredited FIFA soccer association.
That graft and tax evasion exists at such a high level and in practically every corner of the globe comes as no surprise, but that all these big fish could be caught up in a single financial net with a tap of a hacker’s keyboard represents a major victory for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and for political and fiscal transparency everywhere.
It also reaffirms that old adage “you can always be sure your sins will find you out,” (even if you try to cover them up in a tax shelter halfway around the world).
As in the case of Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency disclosures, the international inferno that the Panama Papers have ignited will, no doubt, eventually die down to smoldering embers, and become a footnote in the history of cyber exposés.
And while some countries (particularly those that are democratic) may see a reshuffling of leaders as a result of the Mossack Foneca documents, there is little guarantee that the batch of global politicians and financiers that will follow them are going to be any more honest or reputable than their predecessors.
They may, however, be a little more careful and think twice before opening up sham accounts in far-away lands to hide their ill-gained wealth.
Big Brother may not be watching, but in this day of cyber spying and Internet revelations, somebody certainly is.
Thérèse Margolis can be contacted at [email protected]