Soils are commonly reddish to brown and rich in clay. They vary in fertility, and in many areas crops can be grown continuously only if fertilizers are applied. On poorer soils, a shifting subsistence agriculture is practiced. Under this system small plots are cleared, cropped for a few years, then abandoned until their natural fertility is restored—a practice called roza in Panama.
Since 1914 the 51-mile- (82-km-) long Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, has afforded a long-sought shortcut for shipping and assures the country’s standing as one of the most strategic transportation hubs of the world. The canal also secures Panama’s ongoing role in international affairs and world commerce. The United States relinquished jurisdiction of the Panama Canal on December 31, 1999, marking an unprecedented shift in Panamanian society. For the first time in nearly a century as an independent nation, Panama controlled the entirety of its national territory.
Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara has opened a criminal investigation on matters related to the Panama Papers and sent a letter April 3 to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) saying his office "would greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak as soon as possible." The ICIJ received many such requests from many countries and ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle has said its policy is not to turn over any materials.
The dominant feature of Panama's geography is the central spine of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. The divide does not form part of the great mountain chains of North America, and only near the Colombian border are there highlands related to the Andean system of South America. The spine that forms the divide is the highly eroded arch of an uplift from the sea bottom, in which peaks were formed by volcanic intrusions.
The prosperity enjoyed during the first two centuries (1540–1740) while contributing to colonial growth; the placing of extensive regional judicial authority (Real Audiencia) as part of its jurisdiction; and the pivotal role it played at the height of the Spanish Empire – the first modern global empire – helped define a distinctive sense of autonomy and of regional or national identity within Panama well before the rest of the colonies.
The Spanish Royal Family is also involved in this tax scandal: Princess Pilar of Borbón, Duchess of Badajoz, sister of former King Juan Carlos I and aunt of the current King, Felipe VI, had an offshore corporation for 40 years, until the abdication of her brother. She assembled a company called Delantera Financiera, in 1974, and was its president and administrator. She initially denied this when her name appeared in the Panama Papers. Her husband, who died in 1991, was secretary-general of the corporation. His son, Bruno Gomez-Acebes, is treasurer and manager of this company. The name of Amalio de Marichalar [es], the count of Ripalda and the brother of Jaime de Marichalar, the former husband of the king's daughter, Elena de Borbón, also appears.
Paralleling the principal mountain chains, a lower mountain arc extends along Panama’s southern coast. It appears only in well-separated segments—for example, on Azuero Peninsula as the Canajagua Massif and in eastern Panama as the Sierra de Jungurudó, Sapo Mountains, and the Majé Mountains. The highlands and mountains are made up primarily of igneous (volcanic) rocks.
The National Mineral Agency (NMA) until 2005 valued diamonds for export using a price book based on 1996 figures. Companies also often seek to minimize the value of their diamond exports to reduce taxes and move profits abroad. Once transferred to a subsidiary elsewhere where their value is not taxed, the same diamonds are frequently worth more.
Panama enjoys a lively mix of cultural influences, expressed in the country’s cuisine, artwork, music, and literature. Its capital, Panama City, is located on the Pacific coast just east of the canal. A cosmopolitan city where skyscrapers tower above whitewashed bungalows, it enjoys a handsome setting and a growing importance as a commercial and financial services centre for the region. However, its economic progress has been hampered periodically by environmental problems and political turmoil.
The city of Panama is still a banking center, although with very visible controls in the flow of cash. Shipping is handled through port facilities in the area of Balboa operated by the Hutchison Whampoa Company of Hong Kong and through several ports on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. Balboa, which is located within the greater Panama metropolitan area, was formerly part of the Panama Canal Zone, and the administration of the former Panama Canal Zone was headquartered there.
The publisher concludes that: "Taiwanese companies and individuals are believed to be extensively using offshore shelters to avoid or evade taxes ... after scouring the Panama Papers documents that Mossack Fonseca has not been one of their main conduits. This time, it appears that big Taiwanese banks, law firms and accounting firms did not often use the services of Mossack Fonseca, which does not have a presence in Taiwan. The forty-six Taiwanese brokers that did work with Mossack Fonseca were relatively small-scale consulting firms operating in Greater China. Most of the Taiwanese entities that set up shell companies through the Panamanian law firm were small, unlisted companies or individuals."
The US influence in Panama can be seen in the country's sports. Baseball is Panama's national sport and the country has regional teams and a national team that represents it in international events. At least 140 Panamanian players have played professional baseball in the United States, more than any other Central American country. Notable players include Bruce Chen, Rod Carew, Mariano Rivera, Carlos Lee, Manny Sanguillén, and Carlos Ruiz.
Eduardo Morgan of the Panamanian firm Morgan & Morgan accused the OECD of starting the scandal to avoid competition from Panama with the interests of other countries. The Panama Papers affect the image of Panama in an unfair manner and have come to light not as the result of an investigation, but of a hack, said Adolfo Linares, president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama (Cciap).
Steinmetz, who has a personal fortune of $6 billion, supplies diamonds to Tiffany and DeBeers and is Sierra Leone's largest private investor. Yet, according to a detailed report in The Namibian, his Octea subsidiary owes, among other debts, property taxes of $700,000 to the city of Koidu. These unpaid taxes are discounted, according to mayor Saa Emerson Lamina, because Octea promised a 5% profit−sharing agreement, and payment 1% of its annual profit to a community development fund, but it did not do this either.