The Current

Journalist central to breaking Panama Papers reveals story behind the massive leak

Frederik Obermaier explains how his German newspaper came to initiate the biggest data leak in the history of investigative journalism.
At the time of the Panama Papers, Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was one of many world leaders exposed for the use of offshore companies. Calls for his resignation resulted in him stepping down in April 2016. (Bertil Enevag Ericson/Scanpix/Reuters)

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The massive data leak known as the Panama Papers exposed 140 politicians and officials, including 12 current and former presidents, monarchs and prime ministers, to have direct or indirect ties to tax dodging, and sparked a global conversation about offshore tax avoidance. 

The data leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed complex networks of thousands of shell companies and bank accounts parked in tax havens around the world. 

​The Panama Papers contained more than 11.5 million documents, making it by far the largest data leak in the history of investigative journalism, and involved collaboration between more than 400 journalists. 

The Panama Papers, no question, is one of the biggest and most important collective stories for journalists — maybe ever.- Zach Dubinsky, senior writer at CBC who has been investigating the leak for months

But it all started at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Frederik Obermaier is an investigative journalist at the paper, and was one of the first people to learn about the Panama Papers leak.

Obermaier has co-authored the book, The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of how the Rich & Powerful Hide their Money, and he joins the The Current  to discuss the story behind the story. 

Listen to the conversation with Frederik Obermaier at the top of this webpost. 

This segment was produced by the Current's Julian Uzielli