Policemen rowing down a street in the 1947 London floodsImage copyright Topical Press Agency
Image caption Less of a leak, more of a flood

The Paradise Papers is another massive leak of secret files, the most significant of them belonging to a single offshore law firm, detailing the taxation activities of the wealthy and the famous. It’s the latest in a rich pedigree of such leaks.

You may be finding it hard to get your head around the massive amount of information associated with the Paradise Papers.

Problem is, this is not the first time. While accepting there may be a certain amount of leak fatigue out there, it’s hard to stress just how effective these whistleblowing-led investigations are on how the world sees, and regulates, its taxation affairs.

As Gerard Ryle, of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which oversaw all these revelations, says: “The impact of these leaks is huge on the offshore world because they don’t know where the next one is coming from and who else’s information is coming out.”

So let’s round up the other major leaks of the past four years.

Size matters. Let’s start with the biggest.

Panama Papers 2016

The daddy of them all in data size. If you thought the Wikileaks dump of sensitive diplomatic cables in 2010 was a big deal, this carried 1,500 times more data.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Süddeutsche Zeitung’s “brothers”. Despite surnames that sound exactly the same, these two leading lights of the Panama Papers investigation, Frederik Obermaier (L) and Bastian Obermayer, are not related

Wikileaks was a very different beast and had ramifications in very different directions. Sticking to finance: The Panama Papers came about after an anonymous source contacted reporters at German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2015 and supplied encrypted documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. It sells anonymous offshore companies that help the owners seclude their business dealings.

Overwhelmed by the scale of the dump, which eventually grew to 2.6 terabytes of data, the Süddeutsche Zeitung called in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which led to the involvement of about 100 other partner news organisations, including the BBC’s Panorama.

After more than a year of scrutiny, the ICIJ and its partners jointly published the Panama Papers on 3 April 2016, with the database of documents going online a month later.

Who was named?

Where do we start? A few of the news partners focused on how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin shuffled cash around the globe. Not that the Russians cared much. The prime ministers of Icelandand Pakistan came to far stickier ends, the former quitting and the latter being thrown out of office by the Supreme Court. Overall the financial dealings of a dozen current and former world leaders, more than 120 politicians and public officials and countless billionaires, celebrities and sports stars were exposed.

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Media captionWhen Iceland’s PM quit. Gavin Hewitt’s report

Who leaked the data?

John Doe. Yes, we know. It’s not a real name. In US crime series it is mostly used to label anonymous victims but Mr (or Ms) Doe’s manifesto, released a month after publication, reveals a self-styled revolutionary. The real identity is still unknown.

Five months after the Panama Papers, the ICIJ published revelations from the Bahamas corporate registry. The 38GB cache revealed the offshore activities of “prime ministers, ministers, princes and convicted felons”, it said. Former EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes admitted an “oversight” in failing to disclose her interest in an offshore company.

Swiss leaks 2015

This ICIJ investigation, involving hundreds of journalists from 45 countries, went public in February 2015.

It focused on HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), a subsidiary of the banking giant, and so lifted the lid on dealings in a country where banking secrecy is taken for granted.

The leaked files covered accounts up to the year 2007, linked with more than 100,000 individuals and legal entities from more than 200 countries.

The ICIJ said the subsidiary had served “those close to discredited regimes” and “clients who had been unfavourably named by the United Nations”.

HSBC admitted that the “compliance culture and standards of due diligence” at the subsidiary at the time were “lower than they are today”.

Who was named?

The ICIJ said HSBC had profited from “arms dealers, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws”.

It also cited those close to the regimes of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Tunisian President Ben Ali and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Who leaked the data?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Leaker in chief Hervé Falciani – indicted, held, released

Actually, we know this one. The ICIJ investigation was based on data originally leaked by the French-Italian software engineer and whistleblower Hervé Falciani, though the ICIJ got it later from another source. From 2008 onwards he passed information on HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) to French authorities, who in turn passed them to other relevant governments. Mr Falciani was indicted in Switzerland. He was held in detention in Spain but was later released and now lives in France.

Luxembourg leaks 2014

Or Luxleaks for short. Another extensive ICIJ investigation, which revealed its findings in November 2014.

It centred on how professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers helped multinational companies gain hundreds of favourable tax rulings in Luxembourg between 2002 and 2010.

The ICIJ said multinationals had saved billions by channelling money through Luxembourg, sometimes at tax rates of less than 1%. One address in Luxembourg was home to more than 1,600 companies, it said.

Who was named?

Pepsi, IKEA, AIG and Deutsche Bank were among those named.

A second tranche of leaked documents said the Walt Disney Co and Skype had funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars in profits through Luxembourg subsidiaries. They and the other firms denied any wrongdoing.

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Media captionJean-Claude Juncker admits “political responsibility”

Jean-Claude Juncker had been PM of Luxembourg when it enacted many of its tax avoidance rules. He had been appointed president of the European Commission just a few days before the leak came out. He said he had not encouraged avoidance.

Eurosceptics went to town and pushed a censure motion against him and his commission. It was rejected. But the EU did investigate, and by 2016 had proposed a yet-to-be realised common tax scheme for the EU.

Who leaked the data?

Image copyright AFP/ Getty Images
Image caption (L-R) Edouard Perrin, Raphael Halet and Antoine Deltour

Frenchman Antoine Deltour, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee, was the main man, saying he had acted in the public interest. Another PwC employee, Raphael Halet, helped him.

The pair, along with journalist Edouard Perrin, were all charged in Luxembourg after a PwC complaint. A first verdict was later revisited, watering down sentences, with Deltour given a six-month suspended jail term. Both he and Halet had small fines and Mr Perrin was acquitted.

The offshore leaks 2013

This was about a tenth of the size of the Panama Papers but was seen as the biggest exposé of international tax fraud ever when the ICIJ and its news partners went public in April 2013, after 15 months of investigations.

Some 2.5 million files revealed the names of more than 120,000 companies and trusts in hideaways such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cook Islands.

Who was named?

The usual suspects. A mix of politicians, government officials and their families, with the Russians notable, but also those in China, Azerbaijan, Canada, Thailand, Mongolia and Pakistan. The Philippines – in the form of the family of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos – get a dishonourable mention. To be fair, the ICIJ does point out that the leaks are not necessarily evidence of illegal actions.

Who leaked the data?

The ICIJ cites “two financial service providers, a private bank in Jersey and the Bahamas corporate registry” as the sources, but says nothing more other than it was “data obtained”.

Edward Snowden

We’ll leave you to read up on that one yourself. Here’s a profile of Snowden to start with.

The papers are a huge batch of leaked documents mostly from offshore law firm Appleby, along with corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions, which reveal the financial dealings of politicians, celebrities, corporate giants and business leaders.

The 13.4 million records were passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Panorama has led research for the BBC as part of a global investigation involving nearly 100 other media organisations, including the Guardian, in 67 countries. The BBC does not know the identity of the source.

Paradise Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #ParadisePapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag “Paradise Papers”

Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

The papers are a huge batch of leaked documents mostly from offshore law firm Appleby, along with corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions, which reveal the financial dealings of politicians, celebrities, corporate giants and business leaders.

The 13.4 million records were passed to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Panorama has led research for the BBC as part of a global investigation involving nearly 100 other media organisations, including the Guardian, in 67 countries. The BBC does not know the identity of the source.

Paradise Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #ParadisePapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag “Paradise Papers”

Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

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