A useful resource for journalists and activists tracking corruption and tax avoidance across borders.
Frequently used by investigative reporters for diverse investigations, the Panama registry of companies is a great tool for journalists and activists interested in issues pertaining to corruption and tax avoidance.
Panama used to be (and still is) one of the favourite offshore jurisdictions for wealthy businesspeople and politicians to store or channel their assets in. So it's no surprise that is has been the focus of many journalistic (and official) investigations into illicit finances such as money laundering, tax evasion and other forms of financial crime (check this recent review by the Tax Justice Network). For stories related to this see the Panama Papers project of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its many partners.
With details on directors, registration and subscribers, the Panama registry of companies is very similar to the chamber of commerce in many countries – a place where you can check the names associated to (and occasionally ownership of) all companies and non-profits ever registered.
The website allows you to browse through their database after you have registered (registration is free). However, to access the data you must know the name of the company you want information on.
Latin American investigative reporting network Connects published a tutorial (in pdf) to help you navigate through the interface, and the Investigative Dashboard produced a video tutorial taking you through some of the main steps.
To access a list of worldwide registers, have a look at the Investigative Dashboard's list of worldwide company registries, at this list by the RBA information services and at OpenCorporates databases.
It is interesting to know that, back in 2009, hacker and activist Dan O'Huiginn scraped the official database to create a new one that allowed you to enter the name of a person and see what companies he or she is affiliated to (a search that was and is not possible to perform in the official registry). Dan's database was publicly available for almost a decade and many journalists and activists benefitted from it to disclose acts of corruption and financial crime by politicians and businesses. The database was taken down in late 2018 when the official Panama register filed a series of complaints. You can see an archived version of the database on Wayback Machine here and the entire dataset as scraped by Dan here.
Paul Radu - the protagonist of our documentary "Our Currency Is Information" gives us the example of the Azerbaijani president's daughters, and how after entering their names in Dan's searchable database, he discovered that they owned several companies registered in Panama.