Panama Papers: Portrait of a Pulitzer Prize

On April 10 the Denver Press Club welcomed Kevin G. Hall, the chief economics reporter for McClatchy DC, to speak about President Trump’s business dealings, his connection to Russia and the Panama Papers. Hall and his team, along with reporters at the Miami Herald, found out earlier the same day that they had won the Pulitzer Prize for their investigative work into the Panama Papers.

Panama Papers

Pulitzer Prize winner and chief economics reporter for McClatchy DC Kevin G. Hall speaks about his experience investiating Trump and the Panama Papers at the Denver Press Club on April 10. Photo by Lauren Cordova • scordo22@msudenver.edu

The Panama Papers, which have since been described as the biggest leak in history, are comprised of 11.5 million confidential documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

“This wasn’t just about Putin or the prime minister of Iceland, this was about the rich and powerful, whether they’re politicians, drug lords or mafiosos, how they move their money around the world in clandestine ways and the whole industry that’s set up to help them do that,” Hall said. The information, which totaled 2.6 terabytes of data, was leaked from an anonymous source to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. This leak ultimately lead to a collaborated reporting effort between 100 media outlets in 80 countries, which was published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The documents showed was that since 1983 more than 130 wealthy people hid their money in legal, offshore anonymous shell companies in Panama.

Although using the shell companies is legal, the reasons for hiding money can be for both ethical and unethical. Some world leaders have been identified and appear to have more sinister reasons to launder their money. These include Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Saudi Arabian King Salma and Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who stepped down after the findings. Russian President Vladimir Putin was not directly named in the documents, but the leak shows a $2 billion ring that links several close associates and leads back to Putin’s family.

“If you look at the Russian actors and how their money gets into the system, what the Panama Papers teach us is the Russians are using the offshore world to camouflage,” Hall said.

Relatively few Americans were implicated in the papers.

“We have a tax code that is heavily weighted in favor of the wealthy,” Hall said.

Although President Trump himself is not named as an owner of any offshore company formed by Mossack Fonseca, the Trump name does show up on 3,540 of the leaked documents, according to a piece published by Hall in McClatchy. From this information, connections have been drawn between Putin’s government, the Democratic National Convention hack and President Trump’s campaign. In addition to his collaborative investigation into the Panama Papers, Hall has also been looking into upwards of 700 of the Trump family’s businesses. During that investigation, Hall has found connections between the Trump family and Russian nationals, including Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire who owns the battery technology company Alevo. The most public
example of President Trump’s business connections with the Russians came in 2016, when Rybolovlev landed his plane in Charlotte, North Carolina, on the same landing strip President Trump would land on just minutes later.

The implications of business between Trump and the Russian government are vast. Not only has Trump continued to deny the allegations, Trump himself and his family have refused to divest from all of their companies. Rob Reuteman, a professor at Colorado State University and former business editor for Rocky Mountain News, said that Trump is allowed to skate by on the usual ethics of government because, “It’s new territory, we’ve never been here before. You have half the country that doesn’t care when presented with clear ethical violations.” The secrecy of the administration has only seemingly intensified the extent to which journalists are willing to seek out the truth. Jude de Lorca, a freelance journalist who attended the discussion said, “Trump has
brought us to be the best we can be by being honest, direct and critical thinking.”

As far as Hall is concerned, the work on the Panama Papers is far from over. McClatchy has published over 50 subsequent stories about further connections since the story broke a year ago.

Author: Madison Lauterbach

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