Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning American economist, and Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth have quit a seven-member commission set up to advise Panama’s government in the wake of the “Panama Papers” leaked document scandal, citing interference in their work.
Stiglitz, who had been chairman of the commission, and Pieth wrote to Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela on Friday to tell him that they were “pulling out of the study committee because they fear government officials will limit the panel’s freedom to investigate and keep its final report secret”, according to a report published on the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The news of their resignations was covered around the world by such media organisations as Reuters, the BBC, the Guardian and The New York Times.
The US-based ICIJ had been the recipient of the 11.5 million secret documents from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, having received them from the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which in turn had been given them by a thus-far-never-identified whistle-blower, who is presumed to have stolen them.
In April, as reported, the ICIJ oversaw the dissemination of the stolen documents’ contents around the world.
‘Declined to commit to public release’
According to the ICIJ’s report, Stiglitz and Pieth said in their letter to Panamnian president Varela on Friday that they had resigned because Panamanian government officials had “declined to commit to public release of the panel’s report, and instead had insisted the group’s findings would be the ‘property’ of the government, and that Panamanian authorities would have ‘sole responsibility’ for any public announcements eventually made”.
Stiglitz and Pieth said such restrictions “made no sense, considering that the panel was set up to investigate concerns about how offshore secrecy encourages money laundering and other misconduct”, the ICIJ report noted.
“How can a group allegedly committed to transparency write a report that is not transparent?” Stiglitz told the ICIJ.
“It would undermine our own credibility.
“Evidently they wanted us to be part of a charade, to convince people they were serious when in fact they weren’t.”
A Panama government spokesperson told the ICIJ that Panamanian officials regretted Stiglitz and Pieth’s exit from the panel, and added that the government “understands both resignations” are related to “internal differences” within the panel “over which it won’t intervene”.
The statement added: “The Government of Panama reiterates its firm and real commitment to transparency and international cooperation” and said its actions in this regard had “been recognized by the international community”.
Stiglitz and Pieth were said to have called on the other members of the commission to quit as well, and according to the ICIJ report, are “likely issue their own separate report, which will make the case that being more transparent will help Panama’s economy in the long run”.
Panamanian authorities established the panel – appointing four members from Panama and three from outside the country – in April, in the wake of the uproar over the news of the leak, and the subsequent reporting of some of the documents it brought to light.