Panama Papers Journalist Recalls Scandal’s Muted Beginning

English-language edition of Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer's book comes out June 30.

PanamaPapersCoverAmong the advance reviews for the English-language edition of the book The Panama Papers, which arrives in paperback form June 30, is the following endorsement from Bob Woodward: “With precision and purpose, The Panama Papers is what ‘Follow the Money’ means.” Indeed.

And, in terms of this scandal’s equivalent to Watergate’s Deep Throat, he-she was an online tipster who delivered data journalism’s biggest treasure trove under cover of the name John doe. In an interview with The Mumbai Times, German journalist Frederik Obermaier, who spearheaded the Panama Papers investigation and co-authored the book with Bastian Obermayer, a colleague at newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, recalls how innocently it all began for the pair:

Obermayer was tending to his children, who had taken ill, when his laptop chimed an anonymous note. ‘This is John doe [sic]. Interested in data? I’m happy to share,’ said the message. Obermayer agreed and thus opened the floodgates to the biggest-ever data leak of 11.5 million documents, which revealed the dark nexus between law firms like Mossack Fonseca, corrupt politicians and organizations and shell companies, which act as tax havens and hubs for criminal activities like tax evasion, fraud and money laundering

There’s lots more great stuff in the Mumbai Times Q&A. And, at the very end, a funny moment as well. Interviewer Anu Prabhakar tells Obermaier that when it comes to the most corrupt city on the planet, New Delhi gets his vote. The co-author has never been to the Indian city and offers a different candidate.

Jacket cover courtesy: Oneworld Publications