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The Panama Papers: A statistics report on the biggest leak in history 

Amy Gillies, Normagh Heaney, Cristiana Sandeva, Karoliina Karus & Nikki Post.



The case of the Panama Papers shook the world with the leakage of 2.5 million documents concerning financial and attorney-client information from off-shore accounts alike. The International consortium of investigative journalists (ICIJ) made the spread of these documents possible by collaborating in a joint global effort to expose those guilty of both fraud and tax evasion. Here, we look at the statistics involved to get an idea of the scale of the issue and put it into perspective. The statistics were created by the ICIJ itself, by assembling all the leaked data the consortium had collected. The numbers are rounded because if the authors would have used specific and exact numbers, it would be harder to define. The reasoning behind this is that it may be unclear just how many digital files were found and rounding it up or down to an even number makes it clearer and easier for the reader. Additionally, the numbers would have been so large and therefore hard to picture for an audience. By rounding them up or down, the audience will be able to have a better understanding of the context.

The data tells us that there were a large number of files found; The ICIJ promotes the figure of 2.5 million leaked digital files. A number so large as 2.5 million made it hard for the journalist (Ryle) to dissect and fully investigate the files single-handedly, so the distribution of investigating amongst journalists was essential.

In assessing the validity of the type and amount of data used for the investigation, the ICIJ – being both the organ conducting the research and the one financing/releasing it – could either be accounted for being absolutely trustworthy or absolutely biased. However, the ICIJ was very transparent about their whole investigation and how it was being conducted, and they didn’t just showcase certain aspects of the process. Also, if one would assume that the ICIJ is biased, one would imply claiming that all journalists in all countries are such, which goes against the very principles of true journalism. Therefore, since the ICIJ’s authority in the field of investigative journalism is absolute and since what makes it absolute is that the ICIJ is an absolutely non-absolutist, yet globally-encompassing organisation, the statistics and datasets provided by them are to be considered objective and valid. The data tells us that there was a large number of information and numbers to be analysed and thus this was a serious and large scale case. Besides, having so many journalists, as much as 160 different parties, come together and having them all work together, makes this data seem even more valid. This case needed expert handling and global journalistic collaboration.

The numbers employed reflect a global and varied amount of sources all springing from the same core issue/provider (i.e. the leaks from Mossack-Fonseca in Panama), so despite their weight in terms of amount, their provenience is easily verifiable. The purpose of the papers is divulgation, and the statistics and datasets are used to report on the concrete agencies and facts behind them, so even if the numbers have been approximated by decimals, they are still reliable because they do not deal with small-scale preciseness notions, but with economic/political leaks of global impact. It is more about the overall picture, rather than the small details, which is why the data can still be considered as reliable.

There isn’t really another way to interpret this data other than the fact that these numbers may underestimate the amount of offshore tax havens. Many of these could still remain uncovered or protected by banks, as well as their figure of countries involved in the tax evasion. This number published by the ICIJ only represents the files uncovered from the given 46 countries in the case of the Panama papers, when in reality there is tax evasion happening in every country. So the only thing to keep in mind when discussing the Panama Papers and the statistics around them is that these numbers may be a misrepresentation of the wide-scale tax evasion worldwide.