The anonymous source behind the huge leak of documents known as the Panama Papers has offered to aid law enforcement officials in prosecutions related to offshore money laundering and tax evasion, but only if assured of protection from punishment.
''Legitimate whistle-blowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution,'' the source - 'John Doe', as he called himself, and who has still not revealed a name or nationality - said in a statement issued Thursday night.
The documents, which list the true owners of thousands of shell companies, expose the holdings of current and former world leaders and other prominent figures. The source, whose gender is not known though John Doe suggests a male, said that the papers could spur thousands of prosecutions, ''if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents.''
John Doe noted that journalists who have viewed the papers have said they will not turn over the full archive of 11.5 million documents. ''I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able,'' the source wrote.
The statement, which was issued under the condition that it not be reported until Friday morning, gave some hints about John Doe's political views and concerns. They include income inequality, reforming the American campaign finance system and the ''revolving door'' of United States officials who take jobs at banks or other companies they once regulated.
''Banks, financial regulators and tax authorities have failed,'' the statement said. ''Decisions have been made that have spared the wealthy while focusing instead on reining in middle- and low-income citizens.''
The statement came on the same day that the Obama administration, citing the disclosures, announced a series of steps intended to prevent wealthy individuals, including political leaders, from using offshore shell companies to hide assets, embezzle or avoid taxes (See: Obama to crack down on international tax evasion in response to Panama Papers revelations).
The proposals would create a centralised federal registry of the actual owners behind any newly established corporation, and would mandate that financial institutions collect and maintain information on these owners as bank accounts are set up. The moves would make it easier to investigate financial fraud.
''Our financial system should not provide the rich, the powerful and the corrupt with the opportunity to shield their assets and avoid paying their fair share or with the opportunity to hide any illicit activity,'' said Wally Adeyemo, the deputy national security adviser for international economics. ''Nobody should be able to play by a different set of rules.''
The statement by the Panama Papers source was released through the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which originally received the once-confidential archive of documents taken from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Bastian Obermayer, a reporter for the newspaper who received the original leak with his colleague Frederik Obermaier, wrote in a blog post that he had confirmed via encrypted chat that the statement had come from the same person - of unknown nationality - who provided the secret documents.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Washington-based group comprising more than 100 news media organisations, published articles about the Panama Papers starting last month that have set off political furores and unsettled financial institutions around the world.
According to the consortium, the documents reveal the hidden assets of 12 current and former world leaders, 128 other politicians and officials, and a range of sports figures and celebrities. The 214,000 shadow companies described in the documents are tied to people in more than 200 countries and territories. The papers include long chains of emails showing how the companies have been used.
News reports based on the documents have linked $2 billion in assets to a childhood friend of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and disclosed the holdings of the Aliyev family, which has long held power in Azerbaijan. The prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, said he would temporarily step aside after the revelation that he and his wife owned an offshore company.
In the statement, the source denied being a government official or contractor, now or in the past. The confidential source was also extremely critical of the news media, suggesting that certain unnamed news organizations had declined initial offers to take and report on the documents.
The measures announced on Thursday by the Obama administration, which in most cases have been in the works for years, would attempt to combat illegal tax shelters with a collection of new tools.