European Parliament opens Panama Papers inquiry

A panel of 65 members heard from journalists involved in breaking the story of the Mossack Fonseca data leak, kicking off a 10-month inquiry

The European Parliamentary inquiry's first evidence session was held in Brussels on Tuesday
The European Parliamentary inquiry's first evidence session was held in Brussels on Tuesday

The European Parliament has opened its 10-month inquiry into the Panama Papers scandal.

At the inquiry’s first evidence session in Brussels held on Tuesday, the 65-member panel heard from journalists at some of the media organisations that broke the story in April.

The investigation by 107 media outlets in 76 countries revealed how offshore companies were being used to evade tax, shelter funds for criminals, facilitate political bribes and embezzlement, and avoid sanctions.

While the individual behind the Panama Papers leak has reportedly chosen to remain anonymous, using the pseudonym John Doe, the journalist he first contacted, an investigative reporter at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, addressed the Parliament.

Speaking via videolink from the United States, Bastian Obermayer called for an end to the offshore system.

“We have the hope that the European Parliament will bring even more light into this world and help to end the secret parallel world in which the super rich and the powerful can avoid the taxes and any other law that seems inconvenient to them,” said Obermayer. “The rules on which we have all agreed have to apply to everybody, to the super rich 1% as well as for the rest, the 99%, otherwise our democracy is at stake.”

Over the coming months, MEPs will investigate whether national governments and the European commission failed to properly implement EU anti-tax avoidance and financial transparency rules.

The Greek MEP Stelios Kouloglou urged for greater protection for whistleblowers and for journalists working with the material they provide.

Edward Snowden, who leaked National Security Agency secrets three years ago, faces being put on trial for treason if he returns to the US, and is currently living in exile in Russia. Two former employees of accounting firm PwC have been sentenced for leaking the details of corporate tax deals in Luxembourg, while the reporter at the centre of the LuxLeaks scandal, Edouard Perrin, was put on trial but acquitted.

“We have to protect and award people like Snowden,” said Kouloglou. “They opened the road for whistleblowing in the modern era.”

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