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Why Süddeutsche Zeitung Says "No" To Germany’s Demands For Access To Panama Papers

Why Süddeutsche Zeitung Says "No" To Germany’s Demands For Access To Panama Papers

Germany’s federal states have requested access to data contained in the Panama Papers, but Süddeutsche Zeitung will not cooperate, because doing so would put the life of its source in danger.

The Bundesrat, the Berlin-based legislative body that represents Germany’s 16 federal states, has appealed to Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for access to the Panama Papers. The April 22 motion was approved by the Bundesrat, as the federal states are responsible for tax administration.

The Bundesrat seeks access to the documents "to review this tax matter under the rule of law." For that reason, authorities would "appreciate it if the media were to make the information that it is privy to available to the tax authorities."

"We cannot take necessary action without that data", said Peter-Jürgen Schneider (SPD), Minister of Finance in Lower Saxony.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, however, stated explicitly after the Panama Papers were first published in early April that it would not meet such demands, because the life of the newspaper’s source is more important than the interest of the State in prosecuting possible crimes.

In response to the Bundesrat’s resolution, the editors-in-chief of Süddeutsche Zeitung issued the following statement:

"Süddeutsche Zeitung will not make the Panama Papers data available to the tax authorities and prosecutors.

The editors-in-chief can sympathize with the need the public prosecutors and tax investigators have for these papers, as they would reveal suspicious circumstances and provide concrete evidence of crimes, and prosecuting these crimes is a legitimate government interest. But for this newspaper, there is something that carries greater weight: namely, the legally enshrined rights of our source. Our source supplied us with these documents expressly for journalistic use, on condition that we commit in absolute terms to protecting the source’s identity. If we did not do so, this person’s life would be in danger.

We do not view this assessment of the situation as overblown, considering who the documents incriminated, from terrorists to members of drug gangs and other criminal organizations. Investigative journalism depends on sources like the one who provided us with the Panama Papers. If people did not trust us enough to share with us certain information, much would remain in the dark that ought to be brought to light and to the attention of the general public. The unconditional protection of our sources is vital to the existence of the kind of research involved in laying bare the Panama Papers; it would be the end of investigative journalism if we were to relinquish that."

Last Thursday, ahead of the Bundesrat resolution, the ICIJ — which examined the Panama Papers with Süddeutsche Zeitung — declared that it would not hand the documents over to Germany’s investigating authorities.

The District Attorney of New York had previously made a similar request similar to the group, to no avail.

"ICIJ does not intend to play a role in that investigation,” said Gerard Ryle, head of ICIJ. "Our focus is journalism." 

English translation via Worldcrunch