BANGKOK — Despite breathless reports referencing hundreds of Thai nationals caught up in the latest global offshoring scandal, none of those names is known yet.
That didn’t stop numerous news agencies from reporting that hundreds of Thai citizens have been “named” in the massive “Panama Papers” leak, apparently confusing it with a similar leak from three years ago called “Offshore Leaks.”
Both leaks were disseminated by the same organization, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism, whose 3-year-old database of what the 2013 leak has been widely cited and linked to. It identified 780 individuals in Thailand with ties to offshore shell companies in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands.
Until the leaked information is released in its entirety – possibly early May – neither the domestic media nor law enforcement will know who is among the 21 Thais linked to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, along with 963 companies, 40 beneficiaries and 757 shareholders in Thailand.
While it’s possible some of the same names from the 2013 leak are also implicated in the Panama Papers, there is no guarantee of that until the full set is released.
Meanwhile media agencies caught up in the frenzy include Bangkok Post, Thailand’s largest English-language newspaper; Daily News, the nation’s second biggest Thai-language daily, state-owned Thai PBS; and even a Thai partner of ICIJ, Isra News.
Soonruth Bunyamanee, a news editor for Bangkok Post, said his paper later spotted the mistake after publishing the online article and corrected the news before it went to print. He said the staff are now aware of the difference between Offshore Leaks and the Panama Papers.
The error wasn’t exclusive to newspeople. Many social media sites also repeat the mix-up, such as CSI LA, a prominent Facebooker known for crowd-sourced campaigns on social justice issues.
As for the official response, junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised his military government will look into the 21 Thai clients named in the Panama Papers.
Gen. Prayuth said Tuesday the government has no information about the 21 clients at the time, but said anti-money laundering agencies are following the issue. He also hailed the leak as an opportunity to clamp down on corruption.
“This is good. If they are really guilty, we will put many people in prison,” Prayuth said.
Once the actual names are made public, seeing them reported by the media is no sure thing – Justice Minister Gen. Paiboon Koomchaya said they should not be reported as their financial arrangements were a “personal matter.”
“I want [reporters] to be respectful and positive at this time, in order to be fair,” Gen. Paiboon said Tuesday. “They shouldn’t see all of it as corruption. Some cases could just be international investments. Therefore, inquiry should be done in secrecy. They shouldn’t mention any names, because right now we don’t know what is true and what is not.”