Panama Papers: It's yours, free of charge - the biggest leak ever

How offer from anonymous source shed light on tax havens and secret transactions.

How was the information leaked?

The leaked records, referred to as the Panama Papers, came from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca & Co. The firm is one of the world's top creators of shell companies, which can be legally used to hide the ownership of assets. The firm has offices in 35 cities around the world, including in Hong Kong, Miami and Zurich.

Who received the information?

German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung first received the data more than a year ago. The Munich-based daily was offered the data through an encrypted channel by an anonymous source who requested no monetary compensation and asked only for unspecified security measures, said Bastian Obermayer, a reporter for the paper.

How extensive was the leak?

Obermayer said that over the course of several months Sueddeutsche Zeitung received about 2.6 terabytes of data - more than would fit on 600 DVDs. The newspaper said the amount of data it obtained is several times larger than a previous cache of offshore data published by WikiLeaks in 2013 that exposed the financial dealings of prominent individuals. "To our knowledge this is the biggest leak that journalists have ever worked on," Obermayer said.

What was leaked?

About 11.5 million records for 214,488 entities connected to people in more than 200 countries or territories. The leak includes emails, financial spreadsheets, passport information, corporate records and other sensitive information. It spans nearly 40 years, from 1977 through to the end of 2015.

How was it processed?

Sueddeutsche Zeitung shared the information with media worldwide through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). More than 100 media groups, described as one of the largest such probes in history, revealed the hidden offshore assets of around 140 political figures. "In the largest media collaboration ever undertaken, journalists working in more than 25 languages dug into Mossack Fonseca's inner workings and traced the secret dealings of the law firm's customers around the world," ICIJ said. "They shared information and hunted down leads generated by the leaked files using corporate filings, property records, financial disclosures, court documents and interviews with money laundering experts and law-enforcement officials."

Is there more to come?

The consortium said it will release the full list of companies and individuals identified in the data early next month.

What about Mossack Fonseca?

The law firm with its headquarters in a fairly non-descript mirrored building in Panama's business district is a discreet outfit with a roster of big-name clients and a quiet reputation for hiding money from the tax man. It was founded more than 30 years ago by German-born Juergen Mossack, 68, and Panama-born Ramon Fonseca, 63. Mossack was born in Germany in 1948 and moved to Panama with his family, where he obtained his law degree. Mossack's father was a Nazi in World War II, serving in Hitler's Waffen-SS, according to the ICIJ, citing US Army records. It said "old intelligence files" showed the father had offered to spy for the CIA. Fonseca got his law degree in Panama but also studied at the London School of Economics, and once said in an interview he had mulled becoming a priest. He is an award-winning novelist who has worked in recent years as an adviser to Panama's President. Fonseca had a small business until he merged with Mossack and the two went after offshore business by opening offices in the British Virgin Islands.

How has Mossack Fonseca reacted?

Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing but acknowledged his firm had suffered a successful but "limited" hack on its database and described it and and leak as "an international campaign against privacy".

- Agencies

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