The 'hacking' of a Panamanian law firm uncovers a world elite of evaders

The investigation points to the environment of Putin, Macri and the Icelandic prime minister

The investigation points to the environment of Putin, Macri and the Icelandic prime minister

New media hit to tax havens . A massive hack has brought to light 11.5 million files of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca , a law firm that is one of the five largest in the world specialized in serving opaque companies. The documentation obtained uncovers hundreds of people involved: among them, twelve heads of state or prime ministers, six of whom are active, 128 leading politicians, 61 relatives or close associates, 29 people who are part of the Forbes list of the first world fortunes, in addition to businessmen, sportsmen or personalities from the world of entertainment.

Unlike other leaks about opaque international operations that focused on a single bank, such as the Swiss leaks , referred to the HSBC, and the UBS leaks , or in a single financial market on the global scene, such as the Luxembourg leaks, the already known ones as the Panama Papers show a global panorama of the phenomenon of opaque operations involving a large number of countries and financial transactions worldwide.

The origin of the scandal comes from an anonymous source who sent internal documents from the Mossack Fonseca office to journalists from the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich more than a year ago. The German newspaper decided to share this information with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), based in Washington, which has coordinated the work since last July. The investigation includes 11.5 million documents covering operations of 214,000 companies in virtually all countries from 1977 to December 2015 in 21 tax havens. The information was broadcast yesterday by a hundred media outlets from 77 countries, including The Guardian, Le Monde, BBC and, in Spain, El Confidencial and La Sexta .

Among the people listed in the documentation who would be involved in opaque operations carried out from Mossack Fonseca are the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, or the President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. Also people from the surroundings of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin (leads to him a track of loans of 2 billion dollars); of which was president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak; of Libyan ex-leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Syrian head of state Bashar al-Assad. A series of credits point to FIFA officials.

 

The names of ex-footballer Michel Platini and Leo Messi are also included in the documents.

The names of ex-footballer Michel Platini and Leo Messi are also included in the documents.

Sources close to the Argentine player yesterday rejected this information and explained that all taxation is done through the company Leo Messi Management. They also added that they have submitted all the relevant supplementary declarations.

In the list of alleged fraudsters there are several Spaniards. One is Pilar de Borbón, sister of King Juan Carlos, who would have presided over a company (Financial Front, created in 1974) that, according to the leaked documentation, closed in June 2014, five days after the proclamation of Felipe VI.

They also include the brothers Agustín and Pedro Almodóvar, who are listed as agents of a company (Glen Valley Corporation, discharged in 1991 in the British Virgin Islands), which was in operation coinciding with the premieres of the films Tacones farades and Kika.

Also, in the dossier there are members of the Domecq family , who since 2005 have been authorized by Rinconada Investments Group, based in Panama.

Offshore companies are companies that do not register any real economic or commercial activity. While it is not illegal to have a firm in a tax haven, it serves as a screen for their owners to transfer money, make financial transactions, open bank accounts abroad or carry out operations without the tax burdens they have in the countries of origin.

According to information released yesterday, the Mossack Fonseca law firm helped its clients to launder money, avoid sanctions and evade taxes. His modus operandi was to provide names of directors and shareholders to hide the identity of the true owners of these ghost companies. In some cases, to make it difficult to trace the activities, the same fraudster acted through three or four offshore companies spread across several countries.

Panama is one of the countries in which the legal profession has specialized more in recent years in the creation of companies that have headlines (activity that is protected by Panamanian law) that are offered to residents abroad to Deposit funds in the country. Formally, the opening of accounts in Panama through a front man (who in parallel grants powers to the real owner of the money through a private contract) is not a crime per se. It is if those funds come from criminal activities or money laundering. Or if the interest of the one that opens the account is to escape to the Property of the country in which it resides.

The specialization of Panama in this type of activities is well known by the international tax authorities.

The specialization of Panama in this type of activities is well known by the international tax authorities.

Many times it is the banks of other countries reputed for their low tax burden that direct their owners to that country. And the difficulties that Panamanian legislation supposes for researchers are also known. The release to the public light of the true owners of tens of thousands of accounts managed by one of the big Panamanian law firms is a blow to a country that has specialized in these activities and in which the great lawyers also dominate the political system .

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