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Panama Papers: The Regina Connection

“Since its publication, the papers have revealed world leaders, actors, and Regina-born lawyer Tony Merchant held offshore accounts in Panama.”

 

Author: Derek Cameron | News Writer

Panama Papers
by brett nielsen

 

Tony Merchant named, but what does it mean?

The Panama Papers were branded as an important exposé on around 320,000 tax-evading, wealthy individuals. It was supposed to expose the corrupt practices of the rich and lead to public outrage. But what has the release of Panama Papers actually led to?

Since its publication, the papers have revealed world leaders, actors, and Regina-born lawyer Tony Merchant held offshore accounts in Panama.

But, other than a few news stories, there has been no big splash predicted when the story first broke. Why? The answer may lie in the form of the leak.

The Panama Papers were released as metadata. Metadata refers to large amounts of data that is compiled and published as raw data for everyone to view. The problem is, although everyone can view it, “the sheer size of the raw data means that much is uninteresting and finding the important information is a daunting task,” says Michael B. Twidale of the University of Illinois.

In the case of the Panama Papers, the files totalled 2,600 Gigabytes and 11.5 million documents. In comparison, the average Wikileaks file sizes are around 3.3 Gigabytes.

The data discloses offshore accounts which are not “in and of themselves illegal” according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICJI), the body who released the names. The stated aim is to “shine a light on how the tax system works and how it may benefit the wealthy.” But with very few of the accounts linked to criminal activity, few headlines have emerged.

From the announcement of the scandal, it took about a month and a half for a list of 320,000 names of people and corporations to be published. That meant the follow up to the story took place “after the initial outrage died down,” says Wikileaks’ Kristinn Hrafnsson, who criticized the ICJI handling of the documents. Furthermore, the vast majority of names were not linked to criminal activity.

Since the publication of the list, the storm of stories exposing criminals has not manifested. One of the most-read stories involved Harry Potter actor Emma Watson. Watson’s publicist said the offshore account was for “privacy, not monetary gain.” In the end, however, very little attention was paid to her use of offshore accounts.

Closer to home, the infamous Regina Lawyer Tony Merchant, Canada’s so-called “Class Action King,” has been tied to several offshore accounts.

This is not the first time Merchant has been tied to offshore accounts. In 2013, LuxLeaks tied Merchant to offshore accounts in the country of Luxembourg; media picked up on the story soon after.

However, as with many of the accounts in the Panama Papers, no illegal activity was tied to his accounts and the story died down. Martin Hewson, political science professor at the University of Regina, expects “it’ll be the same thing this go round, maybe it’ll generate a few headlines but I don’t seriously expect anything to come of it. The man already has had his fair share of scandal, this won’t change things for him.”

Hewson went on to say he felt “newspapers are focusing on the wrong thing, they wanted criminals and they haven’t found any. What needs to be talked about is changing policy so that this behaviour is criminal and there’s not been enough talk about that.”