“Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite” by Jake Bernstein— Illicit Money, Fraud and Political Corruption

Bernstein, Jake. “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite”,  Picador, 2018.

Illicit Money, Fraud and Political Corruption

Amos Lassen

Two time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Jeff Bernstein, takes us inside the world revealed by the Panama Papers and it is a world of illicit money, political corruption, and fraud on a global scale. There is a hidden circulatory system that flows beneath the surface of global finance and it carries trillions of dollars from drug trafficking, tax evasion, bribery, and other illegal enterprises. This network masks the identities of the individuals who benefit from these activities and it is aided by bankers, lawyers, and auditors who get paid to look the other way.

Jake Bernstein explores this shadow economy and how it came to be. He draws on millions of leaked documents from the files of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, a trove now known as the Panama Papers. He also looks at other journalistic and government investigations. Bernstein shows how shell companies operate and how they allow the super wealthy and celebrities to escape taxes, and how they provide cover for illicit activities on a massive scale by crime bosses and corrupt politicians around the world.

Bernstein traveled to the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and worked within the United States to uncover how these strands fit together. He looked for who is involved, how they operate, and the real-world impact. He shares how Mossack Fonseca was exposed and what lies ahead for the corporations, banks, law firms, individuals, and governments that are implicated.

In “Secrecy World”, Bernstein gives us a disturbing and sobering view of how the world really works and at the same time, he raises critical questions about financial and legal institutions we may once have trusted.

Bernstein’s concentration is on the stories of those who broke the law, evaded taxes, circumvented international sanctions, hid assets, cheated partners, or ‘normalized’ fortunes made through crime and corruption. He looks deeply into the network that was exposed by the publication of the Panama Papers and he gives us a look at a scandal that is still in the process of unfolding. He “pulls back the curtain on international criminal – or what should be criminal – tax evasion and the corrupt industries that make it possible. We see this through the lens of the blockbuster reporting of the Panama Papers, the enormous leak of internal documents from a Panamanian law firm” and we get an inside view of international investigative journalism.

It reads like a thriller but with a wonderfully written narrative. From the boardrooms of Panama to the secret shell companies in the British Virgin Islands and beyond, we learn how individuals and multinational corporations avoid paying taxes and hide their cash. We also get a look at how an international consortium of journalists breaks one of the biggest stories of the decade with leaking the Panama Papers.

Bernstein’s prose is crystal-clear as he writes about the dark world of illicit finance in a way that sheds light on some of the most complex, shady global networks and illegal transactions.