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Court defends Yle in Panama Papers tax case

Last year Finnish tax authorities ordered public broadcaster Yle to hand over documents leaked from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. On Wednesday a court ruled that the Tax Administration has no right to demand the data.

Panaman poliisi teki ratsian Mossack Fonsecan pääkonttoriin 12.4.2016.
Panamanian police raided Mossack Fonseca's HQ in April 2016. Image: Alejandro Bolivar / EPA

The Helsinki Administrative Court has ruled that the Finnish Tax Administration cannot force the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) to hand over Panama Papers material.

The court declared on Wednesday that the media's opportunities to gain access to necessary material could be endangered if authorities are allowed to order such a handover against the wishes of the media and the source of the material.

Last year, Finnish tax officials three times demanded that the public broadcaster relinquish leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The founders of the firm, which sells anonymous offshore companies, have since been charged with money laundering.

Unprecedented international cooperation

The so-called Panama Papers leak included more than 11 million documents. They were originally handed over to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) later joined in analysing the vast dump of data. Altogether some 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries worked on the project. As part of this unprecedented effort, two Yle reporters were given access to the documents. They found that a number of Finnish individuals and firms were involved in setting up and taking advantage of offshore tax havens.

In April 2016 the Tax Administration issued three decisions calling on Yle and the journalists to hand over the material in its entirety. Yle appealed the decisions to the administrative court.

The media watchdog the Council for Mass Media in Finland sharply criticised the tax authorities' demands, as did the Association for Investigative Journalism and the Court Reporters' Association. According to the Council's chair, Finland was the only country where authorities pushed for such a handover.

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