German states urge media groups to hand over Panama Papers to prosecutors

German journalist Frederik Obermaier, co-author of the "Panama Papers" investigation, posing on April 7, 2016 in Munich, Germany.
German journalist Frederik Obermaier, co-author of the "Panama Papers" investigation, posing on April 7, 2016 in Munich, Germany.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's federal states appealed to media outlets on Friday (April 22) to let prosecutors examine the full detail of the Panama Papers that revealed how offshore firms are used to stash the wealth of the world's rich and powerful.

The scandal broke in early April when German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it had received a cache of 11.5 million leaked documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca and then shared them with more than 100 other international news outlets and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Sueddeutsche Zeitung has said it would not give the documents to officials since this would violate the principles of source protection and freedom of press.

The German Bundesrat, the legislative body representing the 16 federal states, on Friday passed a resolution calling on Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the ICIJ to hand over the documents. Tax administration in Germany is handled by the federal states.

"If the data sets from the 'Panama Papers' are not made accessible, then we cannot draw any consequences," Peter-Juergen Schneider, Lower Saxony's Finance Minister, said.

Governments around the globe are investigating possible financial wrongdoing by prominent individuals and corporations after details of hundreds of thousands of clients were leaked from Mossack Fonseca, which has set up around 250,000 companies in the last four decades.

The ICIJ said on Thursday it would not participate in a criminal probe by the US Department of Justice. The consortium still has not publicly released many of the leaked files from the Panamanian firm.