It’s a painstaking process, as investigators are wading through 49 million pieces of data.
Thomas Schaefer, finance minister in the state of Hesse, which has taken the lead in the investigation, said in a preliminary review on Wednesday that it amounted to the biggest data leak ever dealt with by tax authorities. So far, Schaefer said, the cases had resulted in recovering €4.2 million ($4.7 million) in outstanding taxes – less than had been reported recently by media outlets.
The so-called Panama Papers, released in spring 2016, stemmed from the offices of the Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca and detailed a complex web of offshore dealings by wealthy individuals, politicians and celebrities around the world. Authorities are having to parse the data to discover which of the cases amounts to a crime and which ones merely amount to (legal) offshore tax avoidance.
An eight-person team was set up one and half years ago in the German city of Kassel solely for dealing with the documents, but has still only scraped the surface. Team leader Armin Wolf said they have so far evaluated some 290,000 documents involving 1,500 companies – 1,400 in Germany – and passed on tips to authorities in Germany and abroad.
“We provide a service,” said Wolf. It was up to prosecuting authorities to then decide whether to move forward.