Panama Papers leak: U-M experts can discuss

April 4, 2016
Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel nbbickel@umich.edu

EXPERTS ADVISORY

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has published a massive leak of documents revealing tens of thousands of offshore holdings by politicians, criminals and soccer players in more than 200 countries and territories. The documents are called the “Panama Papers” because they are allegedly connected to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Experts at the University of Michigan can discuss the documents:

David Mayer, associate professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of Business, is an expert on business ethics.

“The revelation of the Panama Papers is a not-so-subtle reminder to corporations, wealthy individuals and really all citizens that we are increasingly moving toward an era of transparency. The trend of increased information from employees, customers and other stakeholders about organizations will only continue in the coming years. The release of these documents is yet another wake-up call that very little is private nowadays. Although privacy is an important aspect of a free society, I hope the increased transparency will ultimately lead to more ethical actions by organizations because of the increased accountability.”

Contact: 734-936-1262, dmmayer@umich.edu


John L. King is a professor of information at the School of Information and focuses on cyberinfrastructure. He can discuss the technical aspects of leaking such large amounts of data.

“Technology improvements in both spinning disks and solid state drives (and even USB drives) have made storing large amounts of data much easier. Digital signal processing has greatly increased the amount of data you can move as a function of time through ‘pipes’ like the Internet. There was a time when the sheer enormity of data was an impediment to people taking big data sets. Those days are closing fast. There is much less difficulty taking data if you can get in.”

Contact: 734-904-5777, jlking@umich.edu


Stefan Szymanski, professor of kinesiology, is co-author of the blog Soccernomics and teaches sports management and economics. He is an international expert who is often quoted in the media on soccer and on other sports management issues.

“Soccer is a sport with a long history of illicit payments—largely because it has historically been a ‘cash’ business—fans pay at the turnstile and large sums of cash could then be distributed. It was the ideal money-laundering business. Although this has changed because of the importance of broadcast rights, which are not usually paid in cash, experience shows that the culture of the sport has been slower to change. There remain large incentives to avoid taxes or exploit differential tax rates across international boundaries. In the light of this, it does not seem surprising that wealthy international soccer players and administrators would have offshore bank accounts, but until further details are uncovered, it is difficult to prove that any laws have been broken.”

Contact: 734-647-0950, stefansz@umich.edu


Andrei Markovits, professor of comparative politics and German studies, co-wrote the books “Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism” and “Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture.” He can talk about all things soccer and sports as a whole, and is fluent in French, Romanian, German and Hungarian.

“I’m not surprised. It’s not a big deal. It’s so obvious to me. What’s surprising about a bunch of rich guys trying not to pay taxes? This is normal. It doesn’t affect the way I love the game. As long as billions of people want to see something and rejoice about something, it doesn’t matter if officials are corrupt.”

Contact: 734-213-2226 or 734-905-0156, andymark@umich.edu


Cindy Schipani, professor of business law at the Ross School of Business, is an expert on corporate governance, with a focus on the relationship among directors, officers, shareholders and other stakeholders.

“At this point in time it’s not clear whether there has been illegal behavior, but secrets have been exposed that do not bode well for public trust.

“If countries expect to eradicate corruption, it’s important for the leaders to act with integrity and not hide behind shell companies. The secrecy of the transactions—in setting up shell companies which effectively hide the identity of the owners- certainly gives rise to concerns of corruption even if none exists.

“Although it remains to be seen whether the Papers will expose corruption, it does appear that, at a minimum, shell companies were used as part of major tax avoidance schemes. This raises all sorts of question about tax law and policy that allows this to happen. World leaders should use the scandal as a catalyst for a change in law. Severe penalties should be adopted and enforced against the use of off-shore accounts as a means of tax evasion. And to the extent the accounts were used for more nefarious purposes, those actions should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. No one should be immune for engaging in corrupt behavior.”

Contact: 734-763-2257, schipani@umich.edu