Copyright: ricochet64 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: ricochet64 / 123RF Stock Photo

On Monday, May 9, a large collection of data behind the Panama Papers was released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).  The ICIJ published a searchable database that strips away the secrecy of more than 200,000 offshore entities created in 21 jurisdictions ranging from Hong Kong to the British Islands.

The ICIJ first announced that it had obtained over 11 million documents from a source connected with Mossack Fonseca & Co. that detailed how the firm helped clients set up offshore or shell companies, but until Monday only a portion of the data had been made public through news reports.

The release of this data is the largest release of offshore entities’ data, and it could spark a multitude of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations. The leaked documents reveal how wealthy individuals, including politicians, world leaders and movie stars, keep their personal financial information and money tied to offshore business entities.  The use of offshore business entities is not per se illegal, but reporters have found that these offshore businesses have often been used for illegal purposes.  Such illegal purposes include tax evasion, fraud, hiding proceeds of bribery or criminal activity, and evading international sanctions.

The release comes after that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) doubled its number of prosecutors in its FCPA unit. The DOJ also recently announced a new pilot program aimed at increasing cooperation between companies and the DOJ.  The one-year pilot program lays out specific perks for companies that self-report and fix criminal violations of the FCPA, including reduced sanctions or even escaping criminal prosecution altogether.  The pilot program follows, and is intended to compliment, the Yates Memorandum, and reflects an increased U.S. effort to combat foreign bribery.

Given the large amount of information available and the increased resources in place to combat foreign corrupt practices, we will likely see an increase in FCPA investigations and the opening of old probes.  While information regarding large corporations will likely be targeted first, companies should conduct internal investigations regarding whether third parties with whom they are doing business are named in the Panama Papers.  Going forward, companies should include investigation into their business partners’ connections to offshore entities as part of their due diligence process.