Apr 062016
 

Before Monday, I like most of the human beings on the planet, had not heard of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm based out of Panama, that makes the Firm in John Grisham’s novel, seem like a cuddly toy. Mossack Fonseca was very discerning when it came to clients, they had to be rich. Everyone from sports stars, to film stars, Heads of States to drug dealers; from money launderers to arms dealers – was on their client list. The Firm essentially helped the rich, the richer and the richest to create dummy companies, hide paper trails, and evade taxes.

Someone with a conscience, and with access to the firm’s data, turned whistle blower and handed over 2.6 TB of data made up of 11.5 million files – includes more than 4.8 million emails, 3 million database files, and 2.1 million PDFs- to a journalist with the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Süddeutsche Zeitung worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to sift through the mountain of paperwork. Journalists from across the world, collaborated on following through and verifying what was in the paperwork.

Around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents.

And, remarkably, in an operation with so many journalists working across so many countries, and with so much at stake, there wasn’t a single leak. Had one journalist in this group had leaked information, it is likely that the accounts and companies would have miraculously shut down, and all incriminating data erased.

On Monday, the #PanamaPapers investigation broke on select media outlets across the world. It seems that the corporations, and High Net-worth Individuals (HNI’s) have been scamming their government’s of billions of dollars in tax revenue, ably aided by lawyers, bankers, accountants and others in position of power. The system that is supposed to be the check and the balance, hopelessly subverted by greed.

One of the things that strikes one, as you go through the various investigative articles from various sources, is the level of complexity in this entire operation. This is data that goes back 40 years, and a fairly established way of hiding ill gotten gains.  This kind of massive evasion could not be possible without a certain kind of nod nod wink wink, by those who make and implement laws. In many countries those who make the laws, are the one’s who have been named. The biggest amongst those names Vladamir Putin, 2 billion dollars . David Cameron’s father was the client of the Firm,  The Icelandic PM (who has since resigned) had set up a company in the British Virgin Islands, that was transacting in Icelandic Debt, while he was negotiating with the banks on the debt, in his capacity as head of government; Nawaz Sharif has been named, as has the King of Saudi Arabia. Mossack Fonseca has helped all of them, and many more, in setting up companies in 22 jurisdictions across the world. This is the opening of the proverbial Pandora’s box.

One of  the most telling comments i read on this

that a whole massive amount of the world’s financial and political corruption got dumped onto the Intertoobz, certainly enough to give more weight to the possibility that every political system in the world—even the nakedly authoritarian ones—is hopelessly rigged, and that the marvelous new world of the miraculous global economy is an even bigger thieves’ paradise than you, me, or even Jamie Dimon thought it was.

Most people, in most parts of the world, do not trust their Government. That is also because they don’t trust the politicians who run their governments. And, they most likely, trust corporations even less. In a world, where the elite are already facing a massive trust deficit with the remaining 99%, this could not have come at a worse time. Anger at the ‘fat cats’ living off the hard work and taxes of the average citizen, is already on the rise. We have been seeing manifestations of this across the world in the last 6-7 years. This is going to make it worse.

Finally, Two points.

  • Not too many Indian names on that list so far. But, a) it is early days; b) Mauritius is nearer
  • Mossack Fonseca is the 4th largest firm in this space. Which means there are 3 more with even more data (and clients)

I hope the whistleblower is safe, secure and remains completely anonymous, forever

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Image source – here.

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Follow my flipboard magazine Panama Papers, where I curate some of the more interesting reads on the topic.

Apr 062016
 

Whenever i feel slightly lost, and tossed about by the stormy winds of life, i listen to this. As much a song as a plea. get my boat back to safety … sort of.

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more on the Benaras boatman series here

Somehow i saw fishermen as being more spiritual than, maybe, the rest of us, who were firmly tethered to land. Casting off into the sea, or a rather big river. Navigating into the unknown, based on the stars (pre GPS), encountering storms and waves, and the rest. While you can take the song in it’s literal sense (get my boat home), it is also metaphorical – be my guide.

Mar 302016
 

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No. this is not a PR plug. It is just that extremely fulfilling sense of ‘goal met’ .

The teams i worked with for two and half long and hard years, pulled it off. We know all know how we worked, and how much we worked, to get here. Proud of the teams – and the leadership that managed to get to the target a year before schedule.

I couldn’t stop smiling yesterday, when the news came out. I may not be there anymore, but they are still my teams 🙂

Mar 282016
 

As i was reading this piece on Pachauri, i could feel the smoke coming out of my ears. What kind of an idiot commissions such a one sided piece, and shames the victim of sexual harassment ?

Pachauri, who is accused of stalking a woman with poetry, love messages, and physically groping her whenever possible, has a freepass in the Guardian, the alleged bastion of women’s rights, where he accuses her of being paid off by the climate denial lobby. He claims that she ‘hacked’ into his account to send her self mails, over a 15 month period, so that she could implicate him in a sexual harassment charge. He also claims that she was the one who was pursuing him.

“What is disturbing [is] that right from the first day over a period of about 16 months she was creating and assembling an archive of messages, which to anyone would seem very unusual. As far as I know, the emails, text messages etc that she collected were personal, semi-personal and only in a few cases official….. I was, during that period, extremely busy and carrying out email communications on six different email accounts. These included my Yale, IPCC, Teri official, Hotmail as well as Gmail accounts. I generally corresponded with her on my Gmail account, but since I had a huge volume of messages to deal with I did not frequently read my messages, except when I was alerted about a message waiting for me. When I did access this account, I would only read unread messages. Honestly, how many of us check our sent items regularly?”

I am also assuming here, that she took control of his hands, brain, mouth  and eyes —  everytime he got near her.

“On many occasions, Dr Pachauri forcibly grabbed my body, hugged me, held my hands, kissed me and touched my body in an inappropriate manner,” she told police

And, she also waved a magic wand, so that everytime he was in range – his personal mobile phone began spewing out SMS’s and Whatsapp messages to her.

I see the need to counter the powerful anti climate change lobby. But, not at this cost. A woman who has been hounded at work by a man old enough to be her grandfather; out of work by a lobby of powerful friends of Pachauri, is now hung out to dry by a newspaper that should know better.

In India, like elsewhere, women at the workplace are afraid to report sexual harassment, because they will be seen as the troublemaker; the one who wont take it on the chin, like a man, for the good of the organisation. The easiest thing to do in a scenario like this, is to shame the victim so that others don’t speak up. The Guardian has set the cause of equality of women at the workplace back, by giving space to a powerful man to present ludicrous claims as facts.

I have been reading the Guardian for the last 25 odd years. And, yesterday, when I read this piece, I was truly disappointed. Truly.

Chart-Sexual-Harassment

(source : International Women’s Media Foundation) – almost 48% of those surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment. The bulk of the rest were either in denial or didn’t want to rock the boat)>

 

Addition : Do read this entire chain of tweets on how ET reported the Sexual Harassment case, something completely overlooked in this whitewash.