Public Affairs

The U.S. Shoe In The ‘Panama Papers’ Case Is About To Drop

Richard Levick |

The U.S. Shoe In The ‘Panama Papers’ Case Is About To Drop

Almost lost amid the global tumult surrounding the release of the “Panama Papers” is this titillating fact: In the 72 hours since the story first hit, virtually no American institution or individual has been named or implicated in the myriad off-shore tax evasion schemes that lie at the heart of the controversy. That™’s about to change.

Yes – some names are starting to surface, but as of this writing, none of them are particularly noteworthy. As a matter of fact, none of the people mentioned so far manage to fall under the classification of “high net worth” individual.

This will doubtless change in coming days, but for now, the big fish that are floating to the surface of the Panama Papers saga are bubbling up far from U.S. shores.

Why is the arc of the Panama Papers narrative shaping up in this way? We don’t yet know, but as a communications strategist, I can speculate that it™’s because the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Washington, D.C.-based entity that™’s orchestrating the revelations, wants its story to have big second, third and fourth acts. This is theater, after all.

The surest way to guarantee sustained coverage is to hold more juicy exposés about iconic U.S. companies, prominent investors, name-brand celebrities and the white-shoe law and accounting firms that may have advised them to take advantage of certain off-shore accounts, in reserve for measured release. If organizations like the ICIJ learned anything from the mistakes made by Wikileaks in 2010, they learned that dumping mass quantities of data all at once, as Wikileaks did with the Iraq and Afghan War Logs revelations, leads to rapid audience fatigue and disinterest.

Almost lost amid the global tumult surrounding the release of the “Panama Papers” is this titillating fact: In the 72 hours since the story first hit, virtually no American institution or individual has been named or implicated in the myriad off-shore tax evasion schemes that lie at the heart of the controversy. That™’s about to change.

Yes – some names are starting to surface, but as of this writing, none of them are particularly noteworthy. As a matter of fact, none of the people mentioned so far manage to fall under the classification of “high net worth” individual.

This will doubtless change in coming days, but for now, the big fish that are floating to the surface of the Panama Papers saga are bubbling up far from U.S. shores.

Why is the arc of the Panama Papers narrative shaping up in this way? We don’t yet know, but as a communications strategist, I can speculate that it™’s because the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Washington, D.C.-based entity that™’s orchestrating the revelations, wants its story to have big second, third and fourth acts. This is theater, after all.

The surest way to guarantee sustained coverage is to hold more juicy exposés about iconic U.S. companies, prominent investors, name-brand celebrities and the white-shoe law and accounting firms that may have advised them to take advantage of certain off-shore accounts, in reserve for measured release. If organizations like the ICIJ learned anything from the mistakes made by Wikileaks in 2010, they learned that dumping mass quantities of data all at once, as Wikileaks did with the Iraq and Afghan War Logs revelations, leads to rapid audience fatigue and disinterest.

There™’s also a distinct possibility that the U.S. authorities and regulators that have been approached by the journalistic consortium for comment have requested extra time to get their investigative ducks in a row. After the chilling effect the Department of Justice™’s UBS case of 2009 had on the ability of U.S. high-rollers to squirrel their billions away in anonymous Swiss bank accounts, it stands to reason that the full weight of the DOJ and the SEC will be trained on Panama for the foreseeable future.

Regardless of what underlies the consortium™’s decision to hold off in detonating American bombshells, experts believe an explosion is about to take place. When it does, the fire and smoke could be severe.

Any day now, the U.S. “shoe” will fall in the Panama Papers case. When it does, the repercussions for corporations, individuals and their institutional advisors will be profound. A lot of people who have been sheltering money in ways some of them may have wanted to think of as legal and aboveboard, could now find themselves vulnerable and exposed – if not to a court of law, then to the court of public opinion, or both.

In any climate, handling public fallout from a Panama Papers-type scandal would be formidable. But in the context of the central themes that are driving the rhetoric of the Democratic Party presidential primary season, in the lead-up to the November general election – that is, that the U.S. economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy and the powerful – it could get downright dicey.

In a matter of minutes, the story could go from the wires to a Bernie Sanders I-told-you-so talking point – and then go totally viral from there, jeopardizing brand equity and tainting an institution™’s reputation among customers, shareholders and employees, among many other internal and external stakeholders, not the least of which are law enforcement and regulatory officials.

Bernie Sanders’ barbs, no matter how toxic, may end up being insignificant compared to probes launched by the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service, to name but three agencies.

What should U.S. companies and investors that may have availed themselves of the off-shore tax havens targeted by the Panama Papers be doing to protect themselves?

Plan for the worst. Get your messages and messengers lined up now – before the bombshells hit. Spell out your rationale in easily understood positions. Identify your key constituencies. Track the story hourly digitally and see how it is growing. Twitter-based tracking software, for example, can tell you hourly how a story is trending. Figure out your areas of greatest vulnerability and whose concerns need to be assuaged, first and foremost. Enlist third party champions to put the story in perspective.

Crisis abhors a vacuum and if the only people talking are the motivated adversaries, the story will only be seen in the worst possible light.

Certain companies may want to “go public” now – before the consortium™’s bombshells hit – to try their best to shape coverage and control the fallout.

Compelling cases can be made that off-shore tax havens are not only legal – they’re desirable, for a whole host of economic and business-savvy imperatives. But understand: The incentives of cash starved regulators looking for revenue and the “optics” of off-shore investing, especially in a campaign season gripped by the recrimination surrounding income inequality, could be radioactive.

Richard Levick |

The U.S. Shoe In The ‘Panama Papers’ Case Is About To Drop

Almost lost amid the global tumult surrounding the release of the “Panama Papers” is this titillating fact: In the 72 hours since the story first hit, virtually no American institution or individual has been named or implicated in the myriad off-shore tax evasion schemes that lie at the heart of the controversy. That™’s about to change.

Yes – some names are starting to surface, but as of this writing, none of them are particularly noteworthy. As a matter of fact, none of the people mentioned so far manage to fall under the classification of “high net worth” individual.

This will doubtless change in coming days, but for now, the big fish that are floating to the surface of the Panama Papers saga are bubbling up far from U.S. shores.

Why is the arc of the Panama Papers narrative shaping up in this way? We don’t yet know, but as a communications strategist, I can speculate that it™’s because the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Washington, D.C.-based entity that™’s orchestrating the revelations, wants its story to have big second, third and fourth acts. This is theater, after all.

The surest way to guarantee sustained coverage is to hold more juicy exposés about iconic U.S. companies, prominent investors, name-brand celebrities and the white-shoe law and accounting firms that may have advised them to take advantage of certain off-shore accounts, in reserve for measured release. If organizations like the ICIJ learned anything from the mistakes made by Wikileaks in 2010, they learned that dumping mass quantities of data all at once, as Wikileaks did with the Iraq and Afghan War Logs revelations, leads to rapid audience fatigue and disinterest.

Almost lost amid the global tumult surrounding the release of the “Panama Papers” is this titillating fact: In the 72 hours since the story first hit, virtually no American institution or individual has been named or implicated in the myriad off-shore tax evasion schemes that lie at the heart of the controversy. That™’s about to change.

Yes – some names are starting to surface, but as of this writing, none of them are particularly noteworthy. As a matter of fact, none of the people mentioned so far manage to fall under the classification of “high net worth” individual.

This will doubtless change in coming days, but for now, the big fish that are floating to the surface of the Panama Papers saga are bubbling up far from U.S. shores.

Why is the arc of the Panama Papers narrative shaping up in this way? We don’t yet know, but as a communications strategist, I can speculate that it™’s because the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Washington, D.C.-based entity that™’s orchestrating the revelations, wants its story to have big second, third and fourth acts. This is theater, after all.

The surest way to guarantee sustained coverage is to hold more juicy exposés about iconic U.S. companies, prominent investors, name-brand celebrities and the white-shoe law and accounting firms that may have advised them to take advantage of certain off-shore accounts, in reserve for measured release. If organizations like the ICIJ learned anything from the mistakes made by Wikileaks in 2010, they learned that dumping mass quantities of data all at once, as Wikileaks did with the Iraq and Afghan War Logs revelations, leads to rapid audience fatigue and disinterest.

There™’s also a distinct possibility that the U.S. authorities and regulators that have been approached by the journalistic consortium for comment have requested extra time to get their investigative ducks in a row. After the chilling effect the Department of Justice™’s UBS case of 2009 had on the ability of U.S. high-rollers to squirrel their billions away in anonymous Swiss bank accounts, it stands to reason that the full weight of the DOJ and the SEC will be trained on Panama for the foreseeable future.

Regardless of what underlies the consortium™’s decision to hold off in detonating American bombshells, experts believe an explosion is about to take place. When it does, the fire and smoke could be severe.

Any day now, the U.S. “shoe” will fall in the Panama Papers case. When it does, the repercussions for corporations, individuals and their institutional advisors will be profound. A lot of people who have been sheltering money in ways some of them may have wanted to think of as legal and aboveboard, could now find themselves vulnerable and exposed – if not to a court of law, then to the court of public opinion, or both.

In any climate, handling public fallout from a Panama Papers-type scandal would be formidable. But in the context of the central themes that are driving the rhetoric of the Democratic Party presidential primary season, in the lead-up to the November general election – that is, that the U.S. economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy and the powerful – it could get downright dicey.

In a matter of minutes, the story could go from the wires to a Bernie Sanders I-told-you-so talking point – and then go totally viral from there, jeopardizing brand equity and tainting an institution™’s reputation among customers, shareholders and employees, among many other internal and external stakeholders, not the least of which are law enforcement and regulatory officials.

Bernie Sanders’ barbs, no matter how toxic, may end up being insignificant compared to probes launched by the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service, to name but three agencies.

What should U.S. companies and investors that may have availed themselves of the off-shore tax havens targeted by the Panama Papers be doing to protect themselves?

Plan for the worst. Get your messages and messengers lined up now – before the bombshells hit. Spell out your rationale in easily understood positions. Identify your key constituencies. Track the story hourly digitally and see how it is growing. Twitter-based tracking software, for example, can tell you hourly how a story is trending. Figure out your areas of greatest vulnerability and whose concerns need to be assuaged, first and foremost. Enlist third party champions to put the story in perspective.

Crisis abhors a vacuum and if the only people talking are the motivated adversaries, the story will only be seen in the worst possible light.

Certain companies may want to “go public” now – before the consortium™’s bombshells hit – to try their best to shape coverage and control the fallout.

Compelling cases can be made that off-shore tax havens are not only legal – they’re desirable, for a whole host of economic and business-savvy imperatives. But understand: The incentives of cash starved regulators looking for revenue and the “optics” of off-shore investing, especially in a campaign season gripped by the recrimination surrounding income inequality, could be radioactive.

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