Sunday 8 May 2016 12:29 pm

Panama Papers: Here's what you need to know ahead of the database release on Monday

A database packed with information from the Panama Papers leak is due to be released tomorrow, providing authorities worldwide with potentially valuable leads for their investigations. 

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) announced that it would be launching the searchable database about a fortnight ago and wrote in a blog post that the database will contain information about more than 200,000 offshore entities and "will likely be the largest ever release of secret offshore companies and the people behind them".

The Panama Papers report by the ICIJ, which was made public in early April, was based on more than 11m leaked files obtained from Panama-headquartered law firm Mossack Fonseca, with the information spanning almost 40 years of dealings and implicating 140 politicians and public officials from around the world. 

However, the ICIJ has stressed that tomorrow's data release is being done in the public interest and will therefore not include reams of personal information, such as "bank accounts and financial transactions, emails and other correspondence, passports and telephone numbers".

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Various authorities around the world have already pledged to launch their own investigations in light of the data leak, including the UK's HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The ICIJ report identified 32,682 offshore companies linked to active clients in the UK, making it Mossack Fonseca’s third-top user after Hong Kong and Switzerland.

“Our message is clear: there are no safe havens for tax evaders and no-one should be in any doubt that the days of hiding money offshore are gone,” said Jennie Granger, director general of enforcement and compliance at HMRC, at the time the agency's investigation was announced. 

Read more: Panama Papers: Could you be embroiled in the scandal?

Meanwhile, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) sent letters to a number of banks and financial firms shortly after the report was made public, instructing them to conduct a round of in-house investigations to established whether they could be linked to Mossack Fonseca. 

The FCA remarked late last month that it thought there was still more to come from the information it had obtained, with acting chief executive Tracey McDermott remarking: "It is far too early to give any view as to preliminary findings. The challenge is really working out what this 'iceberg' is: issues of quite serious criminality have been reported. There are things that may or may not be attractive but which may or may not be criminal."

Late last week, a person claiming to be the whistleblower behind the leaked data published a statement offering to share what they know with the relevant authorities, on the condition they are not prosecuted as a result.

Read more: Why the world would be poorer without "tax havens"

"Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop," wrote the source, known only as John Doe, in the statement viewable on the ICIJ website. "Until governments codify legal protections for whistleblowers into law, enforcement agencies will simply have to depend on their own resources or on-going global media coverage for documents."

Meanwhile, Steven Philippsohn, senior partner at litigator PCB, believes tomorrow's data release could also be hugely beneficial to fraud victims.

"The disclosures so far are merely a prelude to the cases that are likely to emerge over the coming days and weeks," Philippsohn said. "We expect to see the exposure of more structures which have been devised, not to cheat the taxman, but to cheat fraud and other victims of huge global corporations, wealthy individuals, divorcees and those seeking to hide assets and evade judgments.

"Obtaining this information could open up possibilities for thousands of fraud and other victims to recover money and assets to which they are entitled."

Read more: How businesses miss the loose brick in the cyber wall

However, Fiona Fernie, head of tax investigations at Pinsent Masons, told City A.M. that she was not convinced that the new information due to be revealed would yield anything too scandalous as far as the UK was concerned.

"It will be interesting to see whether there is anything all that interesting," Fernie said. "What I can be sure of, to the extent that there is anything that looks like there is anything worth investigating, HMRC will investigate."

High-profile names to already found themselves caught up in the scandal include Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who resigned shortly after the report revealed he and his wife were owners of an offshore firm, and Prime Minister David Cameron, who confessed in an ITV interview that he had once had a stake in the offshore trust of his late-father.

David Cameron also made his tax returns public in light of the scandal, which prompted a slew of other politicians, including chancellor George Osborne, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, to follow suit.