In yet another twist to the ongoing Panama Papers saga, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and anti-corruption advocate Mark Pieth resigned from their positions on an investigative committee tasked with looking into offshore tax evasion.
The Panamanian government set up the international committee made up of seven leading experts including Stiglitz and Pieth in April 2016 to investigate the Mossack Fonseca leaks and help the country bring forth greater transparency to its financial services sector.
However, according to both Stiglitz and Pieth, the Panamanian government kept meddling in the committee’s internal affairs and refused to make public the results of the investigation, ultimately forcing the two to bid their farewells.
In a statement to Reuters, Stiglitz, who referred to the actions by the Panamanian government as “censorship,” said, “"I thought the government was more committed, but obviously they're not,” and “it's amazing how they tried to undermine us."
Stiglitz added, “We can only infer that the government is facing pressure from those who are making profits from the current non-transparent financial system in Panama.”
Pieth, a Swiss anti-corruption and criminal law expert at Basel University, mirrored these sentiments, telling Reuters via a telephone interview, “We're being asked to do this as a courtesy for them and we're paraded in front of the world media first, and then we're told to shut up when they don't like it.”
After having studied the Panama Papers, Pieth was in awe at the level of corruption and criminal activity disclosed by the leaks, which included instances involving the financing of child prostitution rings.
“I have had a close look at the so called Panama Papers, and I must admit that even as an expert on economic and organized crime, I was amazed to see so much of what we talk about in theory was confirmed in practice,” Pieth said.
According to an AFP report, “the remaining members of the panel—comprising four Panamanians and a Costa Rican—had wanted the final report, due early September, to go first to the Panamanian government for evaluation, but Stiglitz had insisted on it being made public at the same time.”
Panama & the Committee React to Stiglitz and Pieth’s Resignation
In a press release, the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the government has authorized that the active members of the Committee publish the report when they deem it necessary” and it “laments Stiglitz and Pieth’s departure,” perceiving it as being based on “internal differences.”
The government also “reiterated its firm and real commitment to transparency and international cooperation, as demonstrated by its clear actions that have been recognized by the international community.”
Alberto Aleman, a former Panamanian administrator of the Panama Canal and one of the committee’s local members, rued Stiglitz and Pieth’s decision.
During a press conference on Monday, Aleman said their resignation “is doing damage at an international level to our country and its reputation,” adding that their actions “certainly affect the [country’s] credibility.”
Aleman stated, “The report has to be delivered to the president of Panama, and then the president of Panama will decide when and how it will be made public.”