What's in the Panama Papers database and how to search it

Leaked files contain identities of people behind more than 200,000 offshore accounts

By Zach Dubinsky, CBC News Posted: May 09, 2016 2:09 PM ET Last Updated: May 10, 2016 4:27 PM ET

A public database containing a slice of key data from the giant Panama Papers leak is now public. Here's what you will and won't find, and how to search it.

1. Names, addresses, middlemen

The information released today by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is what's known as "structured data." It's essentially like a corporate registry showing more than 200,000 offshore companies, where you can check information about who played a role in those companies. The companies were all created, managed or handled at some point by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the biggest creators of offshore companies in the world. 

You can search by:   

  • The name or address of anyone listed as a director or shareholder of an offshore company;
  • The names and addresses of 214,000 offshore companies from the Panama Papers;
  • The identities of hundreds of intermediary agencies or middlemen that helped set up and run those accounts.

You can also narrow down your search to citizens of a particular country or corporations from a certain offshore jurisdiction.

Until now, only journalists working with the ICIJ as partners — including CBC News and the Toronto Star — had access to any part of the 11.5 million documents in the leak.

2. Still secret

What you will likely not find in very many cases is the identity of the ultimate owner of an offshore corporation or account. That's because offshore corporations are usually set up using so-called nominees — people who serve as corporate administrators and shareholders on paper only in order to disguise the true owners.


The real owners' names are buried deeper in the Panama Papers material in records like passports, emails, bank account numbers, share certificates and due diligence checks. Because those kinds of records contain private information on people, the ICIJ is not making them public.