Panama Papers "Whistleblower" Sues Germany For Reward; ICIJ Says Doesn't Pay For Information

Tom Burroughes Group Editor July 27, 2023

Panama Papers

In an unusual turn events, the person who claims to have fired the alert about the huge trove off offshore accounts and passed information to German authorities is reportedly suing for a multi-million dollar reward.

The 2016 story of the Panama Papers leaks (or theft) has taken a twist with the alleged whistleblower behind the data suing the German government and police for what he or she said was an unpaid $14.5 million reward.

In a 13 July report, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) said that on 3 July, the Washington DC judge in the case, Chief Judge James Boasberg, ruled that the plaintiff could proceed with it using a pseudonym publicly – but would have to reveal their identity to the court.

The anonymous plaintiff argued that they should not have to provide the court with identifying information, as it would put their life in danger, the Consortium’s report said. 

The plaintiff has accused German authorities of reneging on an alleged agreement to pay the source 10 per cent of revenue over a €50 million ($55.3 million) threshold recouped from investigations into tax fraud and other financial offences based on the trove of files, which Germany purchased in 2017, and is seeking more than $14 million in compensation, the consortium continued. 

The 11.5 million documents that later became known globally as the Panama Papers were leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the consortium. Stories have been published in hundreds of media outlets. The ICIJ has said that inclusion in these papers did not imply that a person/firm had been guilty of a criminal offence.

The leak of this information raised the question of how to balance legitimate client privacy and secrecy. A total of 214,488 offshore entities were created by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. 

ICIJ said it was “not commenting on its sources and never pays for information.”

The consortium’s report added that German authorities haven’t commented on the matter. 

In some jurisdictions, such as the US, whistleblowers are paid a fee and their identities are kept a secret. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, on 12 July said it had awarded more than $9 million to a whistleblower whose significant and detailed information and assistance led to a successful SEC enforcement action.

The publication of the papers has prompted criticism of the ICIJ's conduct, as reported here.

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