Turning on the Lights 

Idaho's connection to the "Panama Papers"

Call it a reporter's hunch, but a week or so ago—when news broke about the so-called "Panama Papers" financial data leak—I had the weird sense Idaho might have connections to the story.

Thanks to the jaw-dropping work of hundreds of journalists all over the world, the 11.5 million files secreted off the servers at Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca are slowing being revealed. Meanwhile, another database from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists makes hundreds of thousands of files on offshore financial dealings searchable online (offshoreleaks.icij.org). Plug in "Idaho" and you'll get back about 40 names of individuals and businesses in the Gem State.

To be clear, there is nothing illegal about much of what is revealed in the leak. So far, there is no evidence whatsoever that any Idahoan or Idaho company named in the leak have committed crimes. That some others around the world have used offshore accounts and other financial vehicles to skirt the tax collector and/or funnel money to murky ends serves to underscore the deeper issue: the lack of transparency—what's more, aversion to sunshine—that is shot through the world economy.

People have evolved to harbor a well-earned fear of the dark—bad things happen when the lights go out and who can know what's hiding out there in the woods. So it is with the beast-ridden jungle of international finance.

Something as innocuous sounding as Morgan Additives Manufacturing could be a cash center for dictatorships (and it has been, propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Asaad through accounts in the Seychelles).

Looking at the biggest Idaho connection, the web of related parties spans out in so many directions that tracing them quickly becomes a dizzying proposition. In complexity is safety.

We can talk all we want about "reforming the financial system," but if the Panama Papers have shown us anything, it's that the "system" is a dark country and we don't have the faintest idea of its geography.

Which is what makes it so important to get a little sunshine and so good to see a history-making example of what journalism is supposed to do: Turn on the lights.

CLARIFICATION: This article has been amended to clarify that information referenced in the ICIJ database is drawn from leaked offshore financial records dating back to 2010.
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