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Panama Papers database of shell companies goes online

A global network of journalists has published the names of thousands of offshore companies mentioned in the leaked documents known as the Panama Papers. The group said the records should be 'public and transparent.'

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Monday published the details of more than 200,000 secret offshore companies in a searchable online database.

The website contains a fraction of the 11.5 million

documents leaked

from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca by an unnamed source. Access to the data had previously been restricted to the ICIJ and a select group of international media.

The data now made public includes basic corporate information about companies, trusts and foundations set up in 21 jurisdictions. The ICIJ said the database "allows users to explore the networks of companies and people that used - and sometimes abused - the secrecy of offshore locales with the help of Mossack Fonseca and other intermediaries."

Iceland's Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson

Panama Papers casualty: Iceland's Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was forced to step down

No raw records

Reports about the Panama Papers began appearing in early April, about one year after the documents were leaked to German newspaper, "Süddeutsche Zeitung." Süddeutche then approached the ICIJ to coordinate an analysis of the trove.

Although the new database makes thousands of records public, it does not include raw data or personal information.

"We think that information about who owns the company should be public and transparent," Marina Walker Guevara, deputy director of the ICIJ, told CNN. But she stressed that the aim was not to disclose "private information en masse."

Listen to audio 16:03

Fallout from the Panama Papers

Explosive cache

The Panama Papers leak shed light on how the rich and powerful make use of tax havens and shell companies to hide their wealth. Media reports implicated dozens of high-profile individuals, including 12 current and former national leaders, celebrities and criminals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among world leaders shown to have links with offshore entities. The revelations

forced the resignation

of Iceland's Prime Minister David Gunnlaugson and Spain's industry minister Jose Manuel Soria.

Setting up an offshore company is not in itself illegal, but they can be used to hide money from authorities. Mossack Fonseca insists it has always complied with laws to ensure their clients weren't involved in criminal enterprises.

nm/bw (AFP, AP)

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