Wikileaks to Panama Papers: The biggest leaks in recent times

  • AFP, Paris
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2016 11:38 IST
Italian sculptor Davide Dormino poses with his bronze sculpture 'Anything to Say?' dedicated to the courage of whistleblowers (right to left) Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden displayed on the Place des Nations in front of the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 14, 2015. (File photo)

The Panama Papers have sent shock waves across the world and many implicated in the leaked documents are trembling.

This is the latest and biggest revelation of state and economic secrets since the whistleblower website WikiLeaks began using the Internet to break new ground in social activism.

Here is a recap of all the major leaks in recent times:


Founded in 2006 and launched a year later by Australian ex-hacker Julian Assange, WikiLeaks begins releasing secrets such as operating procedures at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, and the contents of US politician Sarah Palin’s personal e-mails.

In April 2010, the video of a US helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed two Reuters staff and others puts WikiLeaks back in the headlines.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Reuters file)

It follows up in the summer with two massive releases of tens of thousands of internal US military documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, detailing cases of abuse, torture and civilian deaths.

American soldier Bradley Manning -- a transsexual now known as Chelsea Manning - is arrested after being identified as the source of the leaks. She is serving a 35 year jail sentence for breaches of the Espionage Act.

Protesters demonstrate the conviction of WikiLeaker Bradley Manning in front of the White House in Washington DC. (AFP file photo)

In November 2010, WikiLeaks releases of 250,000 diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world which deeply embarrass Washington.

The same month, a Swedish prosecutor issues an international arrest warrant for Assange on charges of rape, and after exhausting his legal options, Assange enters the Ecuadorian embassy in London on June 19, 2012 and asks for political asylum. He is still there.

Snowden and the NSA

Edward Snowden, an intelligence contractor with access to classified information from the US National Security Agency (NSA), contacts British newspaper The Guardian, which reveals in June 2013 the existence of a secret US court order forcing US telephone company Verizon to provide the NSA with daily information on its customers’ calls over a four-month period.

Edward Snowden during an interview with John Oliver (File photo)

On June 6, the Washington Post and The Guardian report that the NSA and FBI have access to servers of major Internet companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and Facebook to monitor the web traffic of people outside the United States. Chinese mobile phone companies are also said to have been hacked.

US authorities charge Snowden, who has acknowledged being the source of the leak, with espionage and the theft of state secrets and seek his arrest in Hong Kong. He slips away however and flies to Moscow. He is still living in Russia.

The NSA revelations stun the world, straining US relations with allies as it emerges that Washington has spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the government of Mexico, among others.

President Barack Obama promises more transparency, and the US Congress reforms laws on electronic surveillance.

The Panama Papers

The Panama Papers have sought to shed light on a global network of tax avoidance and were compiled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The huge operation, the biggest worldwide to date, has revealed assets held in tax havens by 140 political leaders and high-profile personalities, including a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson.

The ICIJ allegedly exposed a range of personalities from political leaders to sportsmen and filmstars whom a Panama-based company helped to use tax havens to hide their wealth. ( screengrab)

The papers were examined by more than 100 media organisations combing through 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, specialists in the creation of offshore business entities.

The ICIJ has already published Offshore Leaks on thousands of people who hold foreign accounts for tax purposes, LuxLeaks on agreements between Luxembourg and multinational companies to limit tax exposure, and SwissLeaks on a scheme that allegedly helped clients of banking giant HSBC’s Swiss division evade taxes on accounts worth $119 billion.

ICIJ is run by Australian journalist Gerard Ryle, is based in Washington, and includes 190 journalist from more than 65 countries.

It probes cross-border corruption, organised crime syndicates and tax evasion, among other issues.

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