‘Secrecy World’


Jake Bernstein, Henry Holt Publishing, 335 pages, $30.

In “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite,” two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Jake Bernstein shows that almost two decades of governmental efforts to make the global financial system more transparent have yielded scant results.

While the system is now more tightly regulated and its controls harder to evade, those who have the motives and the money can still find their way around it. Provided, of course, that they retain the assistance of experts including Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that until 2016 was one of the world’s largest providers of offshore financial services.

Bernstein was a senior member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists team that broke the Panama Papers stories based on 11 million files. Bernstein estimates 8 percent of the world’s household financial wealth is hidden. The impact of the project was because of the huge size of the leak, and it also revealed how the shadowy world works and who some of its inhabitants are.

Most of them are not household names, just very rich individuals using complex legal structures. Bernstein, however, concentrates on the stories of those who broke the law, including close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin and of China’s ruling body.

Bernstein also notes that “though Donald Trump did not personally interact with Mossack Fonseca,” there are several important — and quite shadowy — business associates of the current president had extensive links to Mossfon.