Despite all the revelations about offshore accounts from the Panama Papers, a massive leak of 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonesca, the number of Americans named in the cache is shockingly low.
Bill Gates, the international philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder (MSFT), expressed some disbelief at the scarcity during a recent interview with CNBC. Asked whether he was surprised by the reports that have come from the breach, he remarked—with more than a touch of humor—that he thought more people from the U.S. would have been exposed as being linked to offshore accounts.
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“I was surprised there were so few Americans,” he said with a shrug and a grin.
“Whenever you file your tax return, you are asked to declare what overseas bank accounts and assets you have,” he added. “It doesn’t mean that everybody, absolutely answers that question correctly.”
Although its difficult to say with certainty how many Americans are included in the leak, initial reports have turned up associations. The documents appear to include at least 200 scanned American passports. Further, about 3,100 of the 214,000 offshore companies in the data dump appear to have ties to Americans, reported McClatchy, along with 3,500 shareholders of named companies that listed U.S. addresses.
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Some of the highest profile findings include offshore connections to the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who resigned from his post amid the fallout; associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin; British Prime Minister David Cameron; and relatives of Chinese leaders.
Why so few Americans? Perhaps Mossack Fonseca was unpopular with U.S. clients. Maybe they manipulated the tax system in other ways, including taking advantage of certain domestic state laws that allow for a degree of anonymity. Or, as one well-known whistleblower has asserted, maybe American intelligence agencies are behind the data dump. Who knows?
Gates’ comments came up tangentially in the CNBC interview. The main focus of the conversation, which took place in Qatar, was on a philanthropic initiative he helped debut that aims to provide aid to the world’s poorest Muslim countries.