Tax Avoidance Easily Becomes Tax Evasion

Panama-based Mossack Fonesca was once one of the largest law firms in the world, assuring extreme discretion to its clients. Yet when a 2.6 terabyte trove of its data—including corporation formation documents, internal memos, and personal financial information—was leaked to journalists, that masquerade was over. The world learned that the global elite were hiding billions of dollars in distant locations such as the Bahamas, Samoa, and the Seychelles.

Secrecy World (Affiliate Link)
Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite
Jake Bernstein

In 2015, an anonymous source leaked a trove a data from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. When journalists began to publish stories tied to the information a year later, countless politicians worldwide were implicated in tax evasion and related shady dealings. Secrecy World is a periscope on the behind-the-scenes dealings of global wealth. The reader benefits from the lively rhythm of a thriller, rather than wearisome prose.

The Pulitzer Prize winning author Jake Bernstein accomplishes a stunning feat in assembling a narrative around the Panama Papers. Although riveting, the text can be so detail-intensive that it may be better digested by banking and legal professionals, than the casual reader. One key criticism: the author does a poor job of distinguishing between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Not everyone who is affiliated with an offshore jurisdiction is guilty of criminal intent. Highlights include the discussion of how China’s ruling class benefits from secrecy laws, as well as the exposé on the global art trade. Emerging-market specialists will appreciate the analysis of political leadership in Azerbaijan and Argentina, among other nations. Many will start reading the book with the assumption that Panama-based Mossack Fonseca used its legal acumen to be the chief architect of the secrecy world. In truth, we learn that myriad institutions globally have been compliant in aiding and abetting offshore graft. The writer argues that piercing the veil that hides these illicit dealings is a matter of acute public interest.

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