“I have watched as one after another, whistleblowers and activists in the United States and Europe have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing.”
Updated | 3:02 p.m.
The anonymous source responsible for leaking the vast document trove known as the Panama Papers said in a manifesto published on Friday that she or he “would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement” to ensure the prosecution of wrongdoing revealed by the paper trail — but only once “governments codify legal protections for whistleblowers into law.”
The source wrote that the leaked files on offshore business dealings and shell companies organized by Mossack Fonseca, a law firm based in Panama, revealed “the scandal of what is legal and allowed.”
But the source, who took the name “John Doe,” argued that since “the law firm, its founders, and employees actually did knowingly violate myriad laws worldwide, repeatedly,” the wrongdoers there should now be prosecuted.
Doe added that prosecutors require access to the original documents, noting that media outlets “have rightly stated that they will not provide them to law enforcement agencies. I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able.”
“That being said,” Doe continued, “I have watched as one after another, whistleblowers and activists in the United States and Europe have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing.” Doe explained:
Edward Snowden is stranded in Moscow, exiled due to the Obama administration’s decision to prosecute him under the Espionage Act. For his revelations about the NSA, he deserves a hero’s welcome and a substantial prize, not banishment. Bradley Birkenfeld was awarded millions for his information concerning Swiss bank UBS — and was still given a prison sentence by the Justice Department. Antoine Deltour is presently on trial for providing journalists with information about how Luxembourg granted secret “sweetheart” tax deals to multi-national corporations, effectively stealing billions in tax revenues from its neighbour countries. And there are plenty more examples.
Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop. Until governments codify legal protections for whistleblowers into law, enforcement agencies will simply have to depend on their own resources or ongoing global media coverage for documents.
The predecessors Doe cites have been pursued by the authorities, but have continued to speak out. Snowden, who wrote this week that “the act of whistleblowing increasingly has become an act of political resistance,” has hailed the Panama Papers leak from the start.
Deltour, a former accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers who is accused of stealing trade secrets by leaking tax rulings the firm secured in Luxembourg for some of its clients, said in court this week that, given “the great impact” of what he had done, it was “a necessary evil” and “it would be worth it to do it again.”
Birkenfeld, a former banker at UBS who served 2 1/2 years in prison but was awarded $104 million for revealing the secrets of the Swiss banking system to the I.R.S., told CNBC last month that he was deeply skeptical that John Doe was a genuine whistleblower. “My feeling is that this is certainly an intelligence agency operation,” he said in April. “The CIA, I’m sure, is behind this, in my opinion.”
Beyond providing some clues for the global guessing game as to the source’s identity — the use of “full stop” rather than “period” is common to British usage, but not American, and the barely contained outrage at the way corruption on a vast scale is facilitated by members of the legal profession — the manifesto also includes a blanket denial of the theory floated in Russia, that the leaker is a member of a Western intelligence agency working to damage President Vladimir Putin, by providing evidence of corruption in his inner circle.
“For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have,” Doe wrote. The decision to leak the documents, the source added, was made “not for any specific political purpose, but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale of the injustices they described.”
The leaker also answered the question of why the documents were provided to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung — which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other outlets — rather than a news organization with a larger global profile. According to Doe, “several major media outlets did have editors review documents from the Panama Papers” and decided against pursuing the leak. “The sad truth is that among the most prominent and capable media organizations in the world there was not a single one interested in reporting on the story,” Doe wrote. “Even WikiLeaks didn’t answer its tip line repeatedly.”
The manifesto expresses the leaker’s outrage over income inequality. “It affects all of us, the world over,” Doe wrote at the start.
The debate over its sudden acceleration has raged for years, with politicians, academics and activists alike helpless to stop its steady growth despite countless speeches, statistical analyses, a few meagre protests, and the occasional documentary. Still, questions remain: why? And why now?
The Panama Papers provide a compelling answer to these questions: massive, pervasive corruption.
The source hailed what he called “a new global debate,” noting: “Unlike the polite rhetoric of yesteryear that carefully omitted any suggestion of wrongdoing by the elite, this debate focuses directly on what matters.”
But toward the end of the manifesto, after faulting the media for being less interested by the day in the unprofitable business of holding wrongdoers accountable, Doe wrote:
The collective impact of these failures has been a complete erosion of ethical standards, ultimately leading to a novel system we still call Capitalism, but which is tantamount to economic slavery. In this system — our system — the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese. The horrific magnitude of detriment to the world should shock us all awake. But when it takes a whistleblower to sound the alarm, it is cause for even greater concern. It signals that democracy’s checks and balances have all failed, that the breakdown is systemic, and that severe instability could be just around the corner. So now is the time for real action, and that starts with asking questions.