One of the surprises about the Panama Papers – the largest leak from an offshore tax adviser in history – is how few Americans have so far been exposed. The reason? It may be because creating a shell company in the US is easier than obtaining a library card.
About 200 people with US addresses have so far been revealed as clients of Mossack Fonseca, the firm at the center of the Panama Papers leak. Compared with countries such as China, Switzerland, Russia and the United Kingdom, the number is small.
The anomaly may be because it’s so easy to create a vehicle to hide your money and your identity in the US that there’s no need to mess with Panama, according to Shruti Shah, vice-president of programs and operations at Transparency International, an anti-corruption organization.
“You don’t really have to go to Panama or other tax havens. They are not the only ones making it possible for corrupt officials and other criminals to launder their money. You can do it in every state in the US,” explained Shah.
“In every state in the US, you can incorporate an LLC – [a limited liability company] – or another legal entity and you don’t have to disclose who the beneficiary on it is. In fact, Delaware is so synonymous with anonymous companies and ghost corporations that it was named in Transparency International’s Unmask the Corrupt campaign as one of the most symbolic cases of corruption.”