THREE YEARS ON

How Panama Papers changed South Korea

To celebrate the third anniversary of the Panama Papers we’re speaking with reporters from around the world about the investigation, the impact and their experience. This week, we kick off with Boyoung Lim from South Korea.

Boyoung works for Newstapa, a nonprofit investigative journalism center based in Seoul that – among other findings – exposed the son of South Korea’s former president Roh Tae-woo and his array of shell companies in tax havens. Here’s what she had to say about how the investigation changed South Korea (and her):

What were you doing when the story came out and how did it affect you personally?

I was working as an investigator in the police cybercrime squad at the time. I admit that it was the first time I learned the word (and the concept of) “offshore.”

What about the Panama Papers has stuck with you the most?

The finding on the former president’s son owning offshore shell companies probably played a role in changing the way I view money and power. The fact people who benefited from dictatorships abuse the global system to hide their wealth in secrecy jurisdictions made me aware of the prevalent injustice in our society, hidden from our views unless exposed by journalists.

How was the investigation received in South Korea?

Koreans were shocked to learn that sons of former presidents and corporate conglomerates have been running shell companies in offshore jurisdictions. Newstapa’s investigations triggered a wave of reports and stories on offshore tax evasion from other media outlets.

Did it change the way Korean people understand “offshore” or tax policies?

Now many Koreans understand that the secrecy provided by offshore jurisdictions hurts the national economy and damages social justice and welfare. Now tax justice is implemented as a major policy direction for the new Korean government.

What changed for Newstapa after you participated in the Panama Papers?

Now we are recognized by the public as a media outlet that contributes to tax justice by working on the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers. Our journalists are very proud of working with ICIJ and other global partners.