The Panama Papers haven't really told us anything we didn't already know. The fact that the world's wealthy use every means available to protect their wealth is well established.
But the leaked papers indicate that the efforts of the U.K. and the U.S. to crack down on illegal tax practices has spurred the growth of the offshore financial sector.
According to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, private wealth stowed away in offshore centers around the globe grew by 7 percent in 2014, reaching $11 trillion.
That compares to onshore growth of 8 percent over the same period. Panama and the Caribbean captured 54 percent of private wealth originating in North America. Other popular destinations were the U.K, the Channel Islands and Dublin.
In addition to money flows from the North America and Europe, wealthy individuals and companies in the Middle East and Asia are now major holders of offshore accounts.
The United States, for its part, is currently the world's prime destination for offshore money, as pointed out in a Bloomberg report in January. While the IRS does a fine job at tracking down U.S. tax ciriminals, it seems we are much less eager to help tax authorities of other nations, many of them developing countries, track down their tax evaders.
Interestingly enough, the Bloomberg report draws attention to the fact that the United States joined a handful of countries (Bahrain, Nauru and Vanuatu) in opting out of a new set of standards proposed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which would have made life more difficult for tax evaders by implementing tighter disclosure requirements for trusts, bank accounts, and a number of other assets held by non-residents.
Meanwhile, tax havens which typically draw criticism from governments, for their part, agreed to the tighter regulations.
This week's leak of millions of documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca not only has had immediate political repercussions, such as the resignation of Iceland's Prime Minister David Gunnlaugsson, but also serves to shine a beacon on a murky financial services industry dedicated to secrecy and tax avoidance.
Various politicians and their cronies are in the same hot water as Mr. Gunnlaugsson, including elite power players in the U.S., the U.K, France, the Netherlands, Argentina, China, Pakistan, and Brazil. The ruckus swirls around charges of tax evasion and money laundering facilitated by offshore accounts maintained in Panama.
One service provider in the spotlight following the Panama leak is Amsterdam-based Intertrust NV, which underwent a $1.5 billion initial public offering last October managed by the world's biggest private-equity firm, Blackstone Group LP.
Intertrust sets up trusts and investment funds in countries around the world, including many tax havens. The company's shares fell 6 percent this week following allegations by investigative journalists of questionable tax-related practices. Intertrust denies any wrongdoing.
The 7 largest offshore centers were home to 672,500 corporate services and global trust firms as of 2014, a rise of 7 percent since 2009, according to the Appleby Group law firm. These firms would be threatened if the Panama Papers leak accelerated attempts by governments to corral wealth flowing to offshore financial services and bring it onshore.
The Panama Papers scandal erupted thanks to the efforts of more than 370 journalists in 76 countries who received access to millions of private records from Mossack Fonseca. The papers raise questions as to where politicians got the millions of dollars they deposited in offshore accounts, and whether account holders are evading taxes.
Panama has a thriving offshore financial industry, thanks to its mature banking infrastructure and legal system. Many Swiss banks that admitted to facilitating tax evasion pointed to schemes that involved corporations in Panama.