Panama Papers

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Panama Papers

Postby Project Willow » Sun Apr 03, 2016 5:28 pm

https://panamapapers.icij.org/

Panama Papers: Mossack Fonseca leak reveals elite's tax havens

A huge leak of confidential documents has revealed how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth. Eleven million documents were leaked from one of the world's most secretive companies, Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. They show how Mossack Fonseca has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax. The company says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and has never been charged with criminal wrong-doing. The documents show links to 72 current or former heads of state in the data, including dictators accused of looting their own countries. Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ, said the documents covered the day-to-day business at Mossack Fonseca over the past 40 years.

"I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," he said.

Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama is among 107 media organisations in 78 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC doesn't know the identity of the source

The data contains secret offshore companies linked to the families and associates of Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak, Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syria's president Bashar al-Assad.

Russian connection

It also reveals a suspected billion-dollar money laundering ring that was run by a Russian bank and involved close associates of President Putin.
The operation was run by Bank Rossiya, which is subject to US and EU sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea. The documents reveal for the first time how the bank operates Money has been channelled through offshore companies, two of which were officially owned by one of the Russian president's closest friends.

Concert cellist Sergei Roldugin has known Vladimir Putin since they were teenagers and is godfather to the president's daughter Maria. On paper, Mr Roldugin has personally made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from suspicious deals. But documents from Mr Roldugin's companies state that: "The company is a corporate screen established principally to protect the identity and confidentiality of the ultimate beneficial owner of the company."

Read more: Putin associates linked to 'money laundering'

Iceland connection

Mossack Fonseca data also shows how Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson had an undeclared interest in his country's bailed-out banks. Mr Gunnlaugsson has been accused of hiding millions of dollars of investments in his country's banks behind a secretive offshore company. Leaked documents show that Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought offshore company Wintris in 2007.

He did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament in 2009. He sold his 50% of Wintris to his wife for $1 (70p), eight months later. Mr Gunnlaugsson is now facing calls for his resignation. He says he has not broken any rules, and his wife did not benefit financially from his decisions.

The offshore company was used to invest millions of dollars of inherited money, according to a document signed by Mr Gunnlaugsson's wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir in 2015. In addition, Mossack Fonseca supplied a front man who pretended to own $1.8m, so the real owner could get the cash from the bank without revealing their identity. Mossack Fonseca says it has always complied with international protocols to ensure the companies they incorporate are not used for tax evasion, money-laundering, terrorist finance or other illicit purposes. The company says it conducts thorough due diligence and regrets any misuse of its services.

"For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations. Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing.

"If we detect suspicious activity or misconduct, we are quick to report it to the authorities. Similarly, when authorities approach us with evidence of possible misconduct, we always cooperate fully with them."

Mossack Fonseca says offshore companies are available worldwide and are used for a variety of legitimate purposes.
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby tapitsbo » Sun Apr 03, 2016 8:32 pm

Is it true that no US citizens are named in the leaks?
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby identity » Sun Apr 03, 2016 8:37 pm

from ZH:

Finally, for those curious why not a single prominent US name features in the list above, the reason may be found within the snapshot of the non-profit ICIJ's "funding supporters":

Recent ICIJ funders include: Adessium Foundation, Open Society Foundations, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Fritt Ord Foundation, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The Ford Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts and Waterloo Foundation.
And then, at the bottom of the Panama Papers disclosure site we again find Open Society which, as everyone knows, is another name for George Soros.


"The World’s Favorite New Tax Haven Is the United States" ...

... and specifically several US states such as Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota.

After years of lambasting other countries for helping rich Americans hide their money offshore, the U.S. is emerging as a leading tax and secrecy haven for rich foreigners. By resisting new global disclosure standards, the U.S. is creating a hot new market, becoming the go-to place to stash foreign wealth. Everyone from London lawyers to Swiss trust companies is getting in on the act, helping the world’s rich move accounts from places like the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands to Nevada, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

“How ironic—no, how perverse—that the USA, which has been so sanctimonious in its condemnation of Swiss banks, has become the banking secrecy jurisdiction du jour,” wrote Peter A. Cotorceanu, a lawyer at Anaford AG, a Zurich law firm, in a recent legal journal. “That ‘giant sucking sound’ you hear? It is the sound of money rushing to the USA.”
That money is rushing for one simple reason: dirty foreign - and local - money is welcome in the U.S., no questions asked, to be shielded by the most impenetrable tax secrecy available anywhere on the planet.

One may even say that nowadays, US-based tax havens are the new Switzerland, or Bahamas or, for that matter, Panama. Indeed, for most Americans, offshore tax haven are now meaningless with the passage of the FATCA law, which makes the parking of dirty US money abroad practically impossible. So where does that money go instead - it stays in the US:

Others are also jumping in: Geneva-based Cisa Trust Co. SA, which advises wealthy Latin Americans, is applying to open in Pierre, S.D., to “serve the needs of our foreign clients,” said John J. Ryan Jr., Cisa’s president.

Trident Trust Co., one of the world’s biggest providers of offshore trusts, moved dozens of accounts out of Switzerland, Grand Cayman, and other locales and into Sioux Falls, S.D., in December, ahead of a Jan. 1 disclosure deadline.

“Cayman was slammed in December, closing things that people were withdrawing,” said Alice Rokahr, the president of Trident in South Dakota, one of several states promoting low taxes and confidentiality in their trust laws. “I was surprised at how many were coming across that were formerly Swiss bank accounts, but they want out of Switzerland.”
And, to top it off, there is one specific firm which is spearheading the conversion of the U.S. into Panama: Rothschild.

Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, has opened a trust company in Reno, Nev., a few blocks from the Harrah’s and Eldorado casinos. It is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens such as Bermuda, subject to the new international disclosure requirements, and into Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt.

* * *

For financial advisers, the current state of play is simply a good business opportunity. In a draft of his San Francisco presentation, Rothschild’s Penney wrote that the U.S. “is effectively the biggest tax haven in the world.” The U.S., he added in language later excised from his prepared remarks, lacks “the resources to enforce foreign tax laws and has little appetite to do so.”
Yes, Mossack Fonseca may now be history, and its countless uberwealthy clients exposed, but none other than Rothschild is now delighted to be able to fill its rather large shoes.
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Apr 03, 2016 9:42 pm

December 3, 2014


The Law Firm That Works with Oligarchs, Money Launderers, and Dictators
By Ken Silverstein

December 3, 2014


One purpose of a so-called shell company is that the money put in it can't be traced to its owner. Say, for example, you're a dictator who wants to finance terrorism, take a bribe, or pilfer your nation's treasury. A shell company is a bogus entity that allows you to hold and move cash under a corporate name without international law enforcement or tax authorities knowing it's yours. Once the money is disguised as the assets of this enterprise—which would typically be set up by a trusted lawyer or crony in an offshore secrecy haven to further obscure ownership—you can spend it or use it for new nefarious purposes. This is the very definition of money laundering—taking dirty money and making it clean—and shell companies make it possible. They're "getaway vehicles," says former US Customs investigator Keith Prager, "for bank robbers."

Sometimes, however, international investigators are able to follow the money. Take the case of Rami Makhlouf, the richest and most powerful businessman in Syria. Makhlouf is widely believed to be the "bagman"—a person who collects and manages ill-gotten loot—for President Bashar al Assad, who during the past three years has helped cause the deaths of more than 200,000 of his citizens in the country's civil war.

Besides Assad, there are few people more hated in Syria than Makhlouf. He's the president's cousin and the brother of the chief of Syrian intelligence. Using these connections, Makhlouf built a business network that spanned from telecommunications to energy to banking, and by the time he reached 40 he had accumulated a fortune estimated to be in the billions. When the uprising against the regime began in early 2011, protesters torched a branch of his mobile-phone company and chanted, "Makhlouf is a thief!"

In 2006 the British magazine the New Statesmen said "no foreign company can do business in Syria without Makhlouf's approval and involvement," and a classified 2008 cable from the American embassy in Damascus released by WikiLeaks described him as the "poster boy of corruption in Syria." In that same year, the US Treasury Department banned US companies from doing business with Makhlouf, saying that he'd "amassed his commercial empire by exploiting his relationships with Syrian regime members" and "used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals."

When the Syrian civil war kicked off in 2011 and state security forces began gunning down Assad's opponents, the US and the European Union put Makhlouf on a list of regime cronies whose international assets should be traced and seized, because, as the Treasury Department put it, he'd grown rich by bribing and "aiding the public corruption of Syrian regime officials."

If Makhlouf was a bank robber, his getaway car was a company called Drex Technologies SA. In July 2012, the Treasury Department identified Drex—a dummy entity with a British Virgin Islands address—as the corporate vehicle Makhlouf secretly controlled and used "to facilitate and manage his international financial holdings." In other words, say Makhlouf had skimmed a few million dollars off the top of a secret business deal with a crooked Syrian official. He wouldn't put it into a bank account that he could be linked to; instead, he'd funnel it through Drex so the money couldn't be connected to him.

In late October, I obtained several documents about Drex from the British Virgin Islands business-registration office. The records reveal very little—Makhlouf's name, for example, is nowhere on them. It was only because the Syrian civil war had prompted international investigations to try to track down and freeze the assets of Makhlouf and other Assad regime bandits that the US Treasury discovered that he controlled the company and was its owner, officer, and shareholder. But by the time the Treasury Department did it was too late, as Drex had by then disappeared from the British Virgin Islands' corporate registry. In other words, Drex Technologies SA was a vehicle that hid Makhlouf's shadowy financial activities, and before that was discovered Makhlouf had had plenty of time to move its operations and assets to another offshore jurisdiction.

Across the globe, there are vast numbers of competing firms, and many of them register shells that are every bit as shady as Drex.

Yet who makes these fictitious entities possible? To conduct business, shell companies like Drex need a registered agent, sometimes an attorney, who files the required incorporation papers and whose office usually serves as the shell's address. This process creates a layer between the shell and its owner, especially if the dummy company is filed in a secrecy haven where ownership information is guarded behind an impenetrable wall of laws and regulations. In Makhlouf's case—and, I discovered, in the case of various other crooked businessmen and international gangsters—the organization that helped incorporate his shell company and shield it from international scrutiny was a law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which had served as Drex's registered agent from July 4, 2000, to late 2011.

Founded in Panama in 1977 by German-born Jurgen Mossack and a Panamanian man named Ramón Fonseca, a vice president of the country's current ruling party, it later added a third director, Swiss lawyer Christoph Zollinger. Since the 70s the law firm has expanded operations and now works with affiliated offices in 44 countries, including the Bahamas, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Brazil, Jersey, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, and—perhaps most troubling—the US, specifically the states of Wyoming, Florida, and Nevada.

Mossack Fonseca, of course, is not alone in setting up shell companies used by the world's crooks and tax evaders. Across the globe, there are vast numbers of competing firms, and many of them register shells that are every bit as shady as Drex. Proof of this includes the case of Viktor Bout, who, in the 1990s, peddled arms to the Taliban through a Delaware-registered shell. More recently, in 2010, a man named Khalid Ouazzani pleaded guilty to using a Kansas City, Missouri, firm called Truman Used Auto Parts to move money for Al Qaeda.

Scattered news accounts and international investigations have pointed to Mossack Fonseca as one of the widest-reaching creators of shell companies in the world, but it has, until now, used an array of legal and accounting tricks that have allowed it and its clients to mostly fly under the radar.

(The company disputes this claim and asserted in an email that "there is no court or government record that has ever identified Mossack Fonseca as the creator of 'shell' companies. Anything tying our group to 'criminal activity' is unfounded, inasmuch as we have not actually been notified of the existence of any legal proceeding... thus far.")

But a yearlong investigation reveals that Mossack Fonseca—which the Economist has described as a remarkably "tight-lipped" industry leader in offshore finance—has served as the registered agent for front companies tied to an array of notorious gangsters and thieves that, in addition to Makhlouf, includes associates of Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe, as well as an Israeli billionaire who has plundered one of Africa's poorest countries, and a business oligarch named Lázaro Báez, who, according to US court records and reports by a federal prosecutor in Argentina, allegedly laundered tens of millions of dollars through a network of shell firms, some which Mossack Fonseca had helped register in Las Vegas.

Documents and interviews I've conducted also show that Mossack Fonseca is happy to help clients set up so-called shelf companies—which are the vintage wines of the money-laundering business, hated by law enforcement and beloved by crooks because they are "aged" for years before being sold, so that they appear to be established corporations with solid track records—including in Las Vegas. One international asset manager who talked to Mossack Fonseca about doing business with them told me that the firm offered to sell a 50-year-old shelf company for $100,000.

If shell companies are getaway cars for bank robbers, then Mossack Fonseca may be the world's shadiest car dealership.

Continued below.

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Last March, I flew to Panama City, home to Mossack Fonseca's headquarters. Victor, a local journalist, drove me around town, past the lush golf courses and mansions in the old US-run Canal Zone, by dingy apartment buildings in the shantytown of El Chorrillo, and through the skyscraper-lined central business district. At the time of my visit Panama was preparing for national elections, and campaign posters plastered every telephone pole and whitewashed wall. Victor offered a running commentary as we drove. "That guy's an asshole," he said, pointing to a billboard for a candidate for the national assembly who, he claimed, was linked to the local drug trade. "Well, they're all assholes. But he's a real asshole."

Panama has been run by assholes for more than a century. In 1903, the administration of Theodore Roosevelt created the country after bullying Colombia to hand over what was then the province of Panama. Roosevelt acted at the behest of various banking groups, among them J. P. Morgan & Co., which was appointed as the country's official "fiscal agent," in charge of managing $10 million in aid that the US rushed down to the new nation.

American banks helped turn Panama into a financial center, and the country emerged as a tax and money-laundering haven in the 1970s after the government passed some of the world's strictest financial-secrecy rules. That likely encouraged Mossack Fonseca to establish itself here in 1977. The financial-secrecy rules didn't just promise foreign investors confidentiality—they made it a crime for banks to disclose any information about clients unless they were ordered to by a court in a case that involved terrorism, drug trafficking, or another serious offense (tax evasion was specifically excluded from that category). These laws attracted a long line of dirtbags and dictators who used Panama to hide their stolen loot, including Ferdinand Marcos, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and Augusto Pinochet.

When Manuel Noriega, commander of the Panama Defense Forces, took power in 1983, he essentially nationalized the money-laundering business by partnering with the Medellín drug cartel and giving it free rein to operate in the country. Noriega reliably supported American foreign policy in the region—and for years the CIA had him on its payroll—but the US lost patience when he opposed American efforts to topple the leftist Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua. That helped lead to the 1989 invasion of Panama that ousted Noriega and returned to power the old banking elites, heirs of the J.P. Morgan legacy.

The new government of President Guillermo Endara, a corporate lawyer who was sworn in on an American military base a few hours after the invasion began on December 20, 1989, offered a kinder, gentler face than Noriega's regime. But since then he and his democratically elected successors have done little to address the country's most obvious problems: corruption and poverty. A recent US government report said that Panama is "plagued" by fraud and international tax evasion, all of which are "major sources of illicit funds."

"You can go to any law firm in the city, from the smallest to the biggest, and open up a shell company with no questions asked."

Today, Panama's financial laws remain extraordinarily lax. Foreign firms can bring unlimited amounts of money into the country without paying taxes, and an International Monetary Fund report earlier this year said that of 40 recommended steps countries should take to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, Panama had fully implemented only one. In September, the New York Times reported that cronies of Russian president Vladimir Putin had funneled money offshore though shell structures in Panama. "When it comes to money laundering, we offer full service: rinse, wash, and dry," said Miguel Antonio Bernal, a prominent local lawyer and political analyst. "You can go to any law firm in the city, from the smallest to the biggest, and open up a shell company with no questions asked."

In Panama City I was comfortably shacked up in a mammoth 16th-floor studio suite at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, a glittering tower with a panoramic view of Panama Bay. I'd timed my arrival to coincide with a two-day conference at the hotel of about 70 international financial consultants to the über-rich—high-net-worth individuals, in financial-industry parlance—and I'd discovered that one of the featured speakers was Ramses Owens, a lawyer and financial expert who had worked for Mossack Fonseca.

On the second morning after I arrived, I awoke and lifted my head from one of the fluffy feather pillows on my king-size bed, climbed out from under the 300-thread-count sheets, dressed, and took the elevator down to the conference locale: the hotel's Diamond Ballroom.

Although the affair was private, I was able to snoop on the proceedings and get a list of participants and copies of talks and presentations. Seated at tables topped with pitchers of ice water and flower-filled vases, the attendees were overwhelmingly middle-aged men with graying hair and thickening waistlines, dressed in dark wool business suits that would have induced immediate heat stroke on the sweltering streets of Panama City but were just right in the Diamond Ballroom, which was chilled to about 65 degrees.

There were corporate tax attorneys, accountants, bankers, and trust administrators, and they faced a small stage with a podium for speakers and a screen to show PowerPoint presentations. About half the attendees were Panamanians; a quarter had flown in from the United States, Europe, and South America; and another quarter had come from traditional offshore havens like the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, and Belize. These are "really bad people," Jack Blum, a former US Senate investigator and Washington lawyer specializing in money laundering, had told me before my trip. "And they want to learn how to become even worse people."

"I see you're playing the Lone Ranger," ruddy-faced Edward Brendan Lynch, a Bahamas-based financial adviser, said to me during a break in the proceedings. I sat at the bar spying on attendees, and he waited for a Scotch on the rocks. "Where are you from?"

When I told him I hailed from Washington, DC, Lynch, who looked like Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island, said he'd visited the city many years ago. "Saw the cherry blossoms," he reminisced. "Lunched at the Jockey Club. Lovely place."

Americans are believed to hold more than $1 trillion secreted in offshore havens, with annual losses to the IRS alone coming to some $100 billion.

Back in the Diamond Ballroom, Ramses Owens took to the podium. Immaculately dressed and groomed with hair that was perfectly trimmed and parted, he embodied the banality of modern financial evil. Owens, who was billed in the conference program as a master of "tax planning," joked with the audience that he preferred to describe his work for clients as "asset optimization."

When he worked at Mossack Fonseca, Owens drew on his expertise about the competitive advantages of incorporating companies on the South Pacific island of Niue. In 1996 the firm won exclusive rights to set up shell firms on the island, and within four years, 6,000 shell firms were registered there, some reportedly controlled by Eastern European crime syndicates and international drug cartels, according to international investigations and news accounts. The findings led to the imposition of international sanctions in 2001 that forced the island to shut down its corporate-registration business five years later. Mossack Fonseca turned lemons into lemonade for its clients by moving their accounts out of Niue and into other secrecy havens, including Samoa and, as revealed in court records that Mossack Fonseca was ordered to turn over, Nevada. (There is no proof that the firms they moved were engaged in criminal activity, though the identities of the owners of those companies remain unknown.)

The crackdown on Niue was part of a broader international effort led by the US, Britain, and other Western nations. Originally prompted by concerns about terrorism and organized crime, the initiative has intensified recently due to hemorrhaging budget deficits, which have swelled in no small part because of widespread tax evasion. Americans are believed to hold more than $1 trillion secreted in offshore havens, with annual losses to the IRS alone coming to some $100 billion. In 2010, the US government passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act after hitting Swiss giant UBS with a $780 million fine for helping thousands of American account holders hide their assets (in one case, a UBS banker smuggled a client's diamonds across borders in a toothpaste tube). FATCA, which is being rolled out in stages and whose full implementation has been delayed due to fierce opposition from the financial industry, already requires foreign banks to notify the IRS about accounts held by US taxpayers.

Naturally, FATCA was worrying to those seated in the Diamond Ballroom—among them Marie Fucci, an adviser to American and European clients who righteously denounced the act as a form of financial "apartheid"—but Owens sought to calm their fears. As he clicked through PowerPoint slides with images of bank vaults, piles of hundred-dollar bills, and other financial-porn shots, Owens outlined ways to evade onerous and annoying international regulations. FATCA, he confidently averred, wouldn't bring down the offshore system, and it certainly wouldn't do so in Panama, where lawyers, accountants, and other shell-firm enablers have powerful political allies (like the country's then finance minister, who also spoke at the event). Owens estimated that nine out of every ten business entities registered in the country were foreign-owned and said that Panamanian private foundations—a local creation that in the offshore world is as beloved as traditional favorites like the Swiss bank account—would still be able to hold money anonymously, even when FATCA is fully implemented. Audience members wagged their heads in approval.



The morning after Owens's speech, I headed out of the Waldorf to the offices of Mossack Fonseca. I had no expectation of meeting with anyone at the firm, as I'd made numerous requests for an audience and had been politely but firmly rebuffed. "We have decided not to participate in this interview," spokeswoman Lexa de Wittgreen wrote me in a brush-off email, which at least demonstrated that Mossack Fonseca is capable of performing due diligence, on journalists if not clients.

I was using a hotel map and soon got lost in Panama City's crowded business district, which resembles a miniature Hong Kong in tropical tones. As I looked around to orient myself, I saw a young man dressed in dark slacks and a green pinstripe shirt stride out of an office building—Edificio Omega—and open the driver's door of a black Mitsubishi Sportero pickup.

"It's not that close," he said in flawless English when I asked him if he knew how I could get to Mossack Fonseca's building. "Do you have an appointment with them? Because I do similar work and might be able to help you." He pulled out a business card and handed it to me with an ear-to-ear smile.

By coincidence, he turned out to be Alejandro Watson Jr. of Owens & Watson, where Ramses Owens is a name partner. "I work right over there," he said, pointing toward the firm's second-floor office. "I'm late for a meeting, but I can see you later today, or I can take you in now and introduce you to one of my colleagues."

Before my trip, I'd wondered if I should contact a local law firm to test how easy it would be to set up a shell company. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.

"I'm down from the States for a few days looking at real estate," I ad-libbed as traffic whizzed by and car horns blared. "I need to set up a company here to make the purchase. What sort of information would you need?"

"All I need to have is your passport, a driver's license, something that shows your home address, and a letter of reference from any bank," Watson said. "We don't push you for information about your business. We just want to help you do business so you continue to work with us."

"Will my name appear anywhere in the paperwork?" I asked.

I thought my bluntness might trigger at least mild concern on his part—after all, it was the very same promise of anonymity that had attracted all those dodgy clients to Niue when Watson's current boss was employed by Mossack Fonseca. But he remained as cheery and eager as a Mister Softee driver dispensing soft-serve cones. "You have a FATCA problem," Watson said with a smile and a knowing look. "We can work that out. I might recommend you set up a trust, because that can be legally owned by someone else entirely."

I asked whether I'd be able to open a bank account for my shell firm so I could access my money. After all, there's no point in hiding cash offshore if you can't spend it.

"Absolutely," Watson said, enthusiastically. He reached into the Sportero and pulled out a brochure from a small stack jammed between the two front seats. "We have a global banking network," he said, and pointed to a page listing a few dozen financial institutions his firm worked with.

The network included small banks in Panama, the Cayman Islands, Monaco, and Andorra, and brand-name players like HSBC and the diamond smugglers at UBS. A US Senate committee report described the former as a major conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations," and last year the bank signed a $1.92 billion settlement with the Justice Department after admitting to helping launder millions of dollars through shell firms for Colombian and Mexican cartels. There was even a US component to Owens & Watson's network: Helm Bank in Miami. In 2012, US regulators hit Helm with a consent order for multiple violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering rules.

This was a list that would certainly inspire confidence, at least if I were a crook looking to hide my money from the IRS or law enforcement.

The whole process would take only a few days, Watson said, and my costs would be negligible: About $1,200 to incorporate my shell, $300 to cover government fees, and a few hundred dollars more for Owens & Watson to provide nominee directors, if necessary. If I wanted to buy a shelf company—the aged variety—it would cost me a little extra.

"And my name won't appear anywhere, right?" I asked, deciding I might as well push as far as possible.

"No, no, no," Watson exclaimed. "That's not a problem."



Soon after my conversation with Watson I found the offices of Mossack Fonseca, which occupies the top three floors of a four-story glass building that has a dental clinic at ground level. Though I'd hoped to get inside, I abandoned the idea when I spotted a guard at the entrance, vetting all the building's visitors.

At least, I thought, I'd take a picture of the office, whose glass exterior reflected the city's landmark Revolution Tower, a hideous corkscrew-shaped office building. But Mossack Fonseca apparently guards its headquarters as zealously as it protects its clients' identities. "He's taking a picture!" a woman, who was returning to the building with a restaurant takeout bag, shouted when she spotted me snapping a photo with my iPhone. She screamed again and pointed at me. "He's taking a picture!"

Next, I decided to try my luck in Las Vegas. Mossack Fonseca describes Nevada as "one of the best jurisdictions" in the United States to set up a company because of the state's "versatility, low costs, and fast service." America is a great place for Mossack Fonseca to do business since it's the second-easiest country to register a dummy company—behind Kenya—according to a DC group called Global Financial Integrity. And crooks love registering companies here, too, because owning a US company provides them with a phony gloss of respectability that can help divert attention from their criminal deeds, Heather Lowe, the group's director of government affairs, told me.

Since Mossack Fonseca began offering services in the state more than a decade ago, it has used a closely linked local firm called MF Corporate Services to register more than 1,000 Nevada companies, most of them managed from offshore destinations like Geneva, Bangkok, and the British Virgin Islands, according to records on file with the secretary of state. Under Nevada law the only names that must appear on a shell firm's public records are those of a resident agent and a "manager," and neither has to be a human being. The resident agent is typically the company that registers the shell firm, and the manager can be yet another anonymous company. That makes it virtually impossible to discover who actually controls a Nevada shell unless law enforcement or the courts compel disclosure.

Technically, MF Corporate Services is independent of Mossack Fonseca. But in practice, court papers, incorporation records, and other confidential documents show it functions as Mossack Fonseca's local branch office, with its main employee reporting directly to Panama City. This sort of bogus separation is a tactic employed by many big shell-firm incorporators, because it allows the parent company to disavow any connection to its local offices if the shit hits the fan from a legal standpoint. It's sort of like how Walmart might operate in Bangladesh, distancing itself from sweatshops by long and complex supply chains. (Like Walmart, Mossack Fonseca has never been directly prosecuted for the actions of its affiliates.) "These are seamless, vertically integrated top-down organizations until the minute that a cop or investigator comes along," says Jack Blum, the money-laundering expert. "Then they disintegrate into a series of unconnected entities, and everyone swears they don't know anything about anyone else in the system. It's like a jigsaw puzzle that's assembled but suddenly falls apart when someone starts investigating."

Indeed, this is exactly how Mossack Fonseca has replied when questioned about shady activities it's been connected to in Las Vegas. While there's no way to know precisely who's behind the vast majority of dummy companies the firm has been helping to create there, an ongoing criminal investigation in Argentina and a related case before the United States District Court of Nevada involving the oligarch Lázaro Báez offer an idea. The investigation and court records allege that Báez is the secret owner of more than 100 shell firms that Mossack Fonseca has helped establish in Nevada. All of them were managed by Aldyne Ltd., an anonymous company that Mossack Fonseca registered in the Seychelles Islands, according to prosecutors. (Mossack Fonseca has not been charged to date in either Argentina or Nevada, but one of its operatives in Las Vegas has been deposed in the legal case, and the district court has told the firm to turn over records related to the Báez shell companies, an order with which it has refused to fully comply.)

A former bank teller, Báez built a vast business empire through contracts awarded by his close friends Cristina and Néstor Kirchner, the current and previous presidents of Argentina, respectively, and their political allies in his home province, according to news reports and investigators. Báez was so bereft when his patron Néstor died, in 2010, that he erected a three-story mausoleum to house his remains. Prosecutors allege that the Nevada shells were part of a network that Báez used to move offshore more than $65 million in funds diverted from public infrastructure projects.

The Báez-linked firms in Nevada were registered by MF Corporate Services, whose assistant manager, Patricia Amunategui, was asked by Mossack Fonseca headquarters to also serve as secretary of Aldyne Ltd., according to a source close to the issue. When questioned about the illegal activities of past client firms, Mossack Fonseca's reply was to remind me in an email that "registered agents are not liable in any way for the business transactions or any other dealings of the companies they incorporate." For her part, Amunategui—a native Chilean who previously worked as a casino cocktail waitress and, based on her Facebook page, enjoys yoga, spiritualism, and hiking and admires the Dalai Lama, the Tea Party, and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet—has claimed that MF Corporate Services does "not have, nor have we ever had, any kind of relationship with Lázaro Báez." She also claims she has no employment relationship with Mossack Fonseca, even though a few years ago she provided a testimonial used in a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, catalogue that said right after she graduated from its paralegal program she "landed a great job as the vice president of Mossack Fonseca, an international law firm." (She claims she was misquoted.) Amunategui was the person I most hoped to meet when I flew to Las Vegas in early November.



"Your car is in space B-15," the twentysomething woman at Avis told me after I'd landed at McCarran International Airport. "B like in brothel."

Her face was expressionless, so I wasn't sure whether to be insulted or merely amused. But I'd been traveling all day from Washington, on two long flights in economy class, so at that point I didn't really care. It was good to have landed in Vegas, even if the airport is named for Pat McCarran, the casino-loving, Jew-hating, racist politician whom the corrupt Nevada senator in The Godfather: Part II was allegedly modeled on.

Nevada had become the headquarters for a variety of Ponzi schemers, corporate crooks, pump-and-dump penny-stock promoters, internet swindlers, and tax evaders.

In 2001, the Nevada legislature considered a bill that would encourage companies to incorporate in the state by shielding them from disclosure and liability laws. "We are holding up a sign that says, 'Sleaze balls and rip-off artists welcome here,'" then state senator Dina Titus said during debate on the bill, whose supporters argued that it would gin up badly needed revenues.

Titus, who now serves in the US House of Representatives, rather bizarrely proceeded to vote "Yes" on the bill, and her prophecy duly unfolded. Within a few years Nevada had become the headquarters for a variety of Ponzi schemers, corporate crooks, pump-and-dump penny-stock promoters, internet swindlers, and tax evaders. Among them were Donald McGhan, who in 2009 received a ten-year sentence for bilking investors of almost $100 million through a scam real estate venture called Southwest Exchange, and defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who used a Nevada-registered shell to funnel a bribe to then congressman Randy Cunningham. (The pair were doomed during a lunch when Cunningham diagrammed on his own congressional stationery a fatal list of bribes he'd received from Wade and the corresponding federal contracts he'd steered his way in exchange.)

The secretary of state's website offers a host of reasons for companies to incorporate in Nevada, trumpeting the lack of corporate income tax and the near impossibility of piercing the "corporate veil." Those sorts of rules have helped draw some 300,000 active companies to the state, one for every nine residents, and netted revenues of $133 million in 2012 alone. So much of that activity is potentially criminal that Deputy Secretary of State Scott Anderson says his office has taken a number of steps to clamp down on abuses, including a rule that strictly prohibits anyone from creating a Nevada corporation to commit a crime. "Granted, if someone is going to do something illegal," Anderson conceded, "they probably wouldn't disclose it."

One day during my trip I interviewed Cort Christie, head of Nevada Corporate Headquarters, one of the state's most prolific shell-firm incorporators. His company is located in an oversize, sterile office building in an area called Spring Valley. Christie is a former board member of the powerful, politically connected Nevada Registered Agent Association (MF Corporate Services is a member), which "is working to ensure the state's future as America's incorporation center," according to the group's website. It warns that if Nevada's "current tax-advantaged, pro-business environment is lost, the state's reputation... will be lost as well. Once that public trust is damaged, it cannot be easily replaced."

Last year, the NRAA lobbied against a proposal by the secretary of state that would have tightened up rules discouraging corporate secrecy. The bill, which Christie told me "would've curbed the appearance that people can come out here and hide out," was overwhelmingly rejected.

On the morning of November 4, I cruised down S. Casino Center Boulevard through the heart of downtown Las Vegas, past the Golden Nugget and El Cortez (the original mob-owned casino) and the heaviest concentration in America of restaurants offering $9.99 prime-rib dinners. Then I got on Interstate 15 and headed south to Henderson, a suburb where gigantic malls give way to a seamless blur of stucco and adobe-style tract houses.

MF Corporate Services is situated in the Parc Place Professional Complex, home to several identical, single-story buildings with red-tile roofs. There were only a few cars in the parking lot, and I didn't see anyone outside. A red-and-white metal MF Corporate Services sign, planted into a patch of rocks and cactuses, blew forlornly in the warm breeze.

As far as I could tell from public records and court documents, MF Corporate Services doesn't do any drop-in work—its only purpose seems to be setting up Nevada shells for Mossack Fonseca clients—and the remote setting did nothing to dispel that impression. Amunategui runs day-to-day operations, though internal company documents I found in court records show she works closely with Mossack Fonseca employees in Panama, such as Leticia Montoya, the custodian of record for dozens of shell firms linked to Lázaro Báez.

Montoya has quite a checkered career, having previously registered or served as a nominee director for at least six anonymous companies that were involved in major international corruption scandals. Among those is a Panamanian shell firm called Nicstate, whose beneficial owners turned out to include former Nicaraguan president Arnoldo "Fat Man" Alemán. He used Nicstate and other offshore vehicles to divert nearly $100 million of state funds into his own pockets. Montoya also helped set up Mirror Development Inc., which Siemens of Germany employed to funnel bribes to Argentine government officials who helped it win a $1 billion contract to produce national identity cards. This was just one component of a global scheme by Siemens, which also used corporate cutouts to pay off government officials in Bangladesh, Venezuela, and Iraq, where the recipients included Saddam Hussein.

I figured that my best chance to speak to Amunategui would be if I dropped in unexpectedly, so I hadn't called ahead. When I knocked on the glass door of MF Corporate Services, a man holding a clipboard, sitting in a randomly placed blue chair in the office's lobby, waved me in. A white plastic trash bag filled with shredded documents sat just inside the door, and a framed map of the world hung on a wall. There were four clocks above it, showing the time in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Panama.

The man on the chair—a locksmith, it turned out—called to Amunategui when I asked to speak with her, and she emerged from a back room. Her face was splashed with freckles, and she wore her long brown hair in a bun. She frowned softly and declined to talk when I told her I was a journalist interested in MF Corporate Services' work for Báez. "Give me your name, and I'll see if our attorney can talk to you," she said while shaking a finger in the negative.

"The attorney for Mossack Fonseca?" I asked.

"No, my company's attorney," she replied, referring to MF Corporate Services. "They're separate."

I stood there for a moment beneath the bright glow of the ceiling lights, desperately trying to figure out a way to keep the conversation going. There was so much I still wanted to know, and Amunategui was the closest I'd come to being able to speak directly with someone actually affiliated with Mossack Fonseca.

I wanted to ask her about specific people who'd been linked to Mossack Fonseca–incorporated shell firms by the US government, court records, international investigators, and my year of research: Billy Rautenbach, an alleged bagman for Robert Mugabe, the longtime ruler of Zimbabwe; Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister and oligarch nicknamed the "gas princess"; Beny Steinmetz, an Israeli billionaire who'd reportedly used a Mossack Fonseca–incorporated shell firm in the British Virgin Islands to pay a bribe to a wife of the homicidal dictator of Guinea, where Steinmetz was seeking (and subsequently got) a huge mining concession. I even wanted to ask her about Mossack Fonseca's feel-good Facebook page and Twitter feed, which feature pictures of smiling recipients of the firm's charitable contributions and platitudes from the likes of Thomas Edison and Dr. Seuss ("Today you are you! That is truer than true!").

But Amunategui wouldn't say a word after taking down my contact information. She promised she'd pass it on to her lawyer. She didn't even bother to escort me out the door but ducked into her personal office, sat at a desk sprinkled with a few folders and FedEx packages, and picked up the phone. I could hear her talking from the hallway, and though I couldn't make out what she was saying, she was clearly speaking in an agitated manner, presumably with the company's aforementioned lawyer (whom I never heard from).

Amunategui's refusal to answer questions was frustrating, but unsurprising. When you work with Mossack Fonseca there are a lot of dirty secrets to keep, so being tight-lipped is perhaps the most essential part of doing your job.
does announcing genocide on twitter violate terms of service?
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Apr 03, 2016 10:00 pm

Who are Mossack Fonseca?
Panamanian Law Firm Is Gatekeeper To Vast Flow of Murky Offshore Secrets

about 8 hours ago
Martha M. Hamilton

This animation delves into the secretive world of offshore business activities, exposing their role in helping finance illegal acts around the world. Video: Pulitzer Centre


Mossack Fonseca & Co. had a problem in Vegas.
Legal papers filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas claimed that the Panama-based law firm had created 123 companies in Nevada that had been used by a crony of Argentina’s former president to steal millions of dollars from government contracts. A subpoena demanded that Mossack Fonseca turn over details about any money that had flowed through the Nevada companies.
Mossack Fonesca didn’t want to provide this information. For a firm that specializes in setting up hard-to-trace offshore companies for clients around the world, confidentiality is a must.
The law firm tried to block the subpoena by denying that its Las Vegas operations, run by a company called M.F. Corporate Services (Nevada) Limited, were part of the Mossack Fonseca group.
The firm’s Panama-based co-founder, Jürgen Mossack, testified under oath that “MF Nevada and Mossack Fonseca do not have a parent-subsidiary relationship nor does Mossack Fonseca control the internal affairs or daily operations of MF Nevada’s business.”
But secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other media partners raise new doubts over that sworn testimony.
Not only do they show that the Nevada subsidiary was wholly owned by Mossack Fonseca but that, behind the scenes, the firm took steps to wipe potentially damaging records from phones and computers to keep details of their clients from the United States justice system.
One email from 2014, for instance, instructs that any link between Mossack Fonseca’s central computing system in Panama and the Nevada office “has to be obscure to the investigators.” Other emails report that IT operatives working via remote control from Panama “tried to clean the logs of the PC’s in the Nevada office” and planned to run a “remote session to eliminate the traces of direct access to our CIS” - the firm’s computer information system.
The documents even show that a firm employee traveled from Panama to Vegas to whisk paper documents out of the country. “When Andrés came to Nevada he cleaned up everything and brought all documents to Panama,” a Sept. 24, 2014 email said.
In comments to ICIJ, Mossack Fonseca “categorically” denied hiding or destroying documents that might be used in an ongoing investigation or litigation.
The more than 11 million documents obtained by ICIJ - emails, bank accounts and client records - represent the inner workings of Mossack Fonseca for nearly forty years, from 1977 to December 2015 . They reveal the offshore holdings of individuals and companies from more than 200 countries and territories .
They recount example after example of ethical and legal wrongdoing by some clients and provide evidence of a firm happy to act as a gatekeeper to the secrets of its clients, even those who turn out to be crooks, members of the Mafia, drug dealers, corrupt politicians and tax evaders.
The files show that business has been good.
Today, Mossack Fonseca is considered one of the world’s five biggest wholesalers of offshore secrecy. It has more than more than 500 employees and collaborators in more than 40 offices around the world, including three in Switzerland and eight in China.
Mossack Fonseca responded to questions raised by ICIJ’s findings saying that “for 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach … Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing.”
Spokesman Carlos Sousa said that the firm “merely helps clients incorporate companies.”
That doesn’t amount to “establishing a business link with or directing in any way the companies so formed,” Sousa said.
Firm’s Roots
Mossack Fonseca traces its beginnings to 1986, when Ramón Fonseca merged his small, one-secretary law firm in Panama with another local firm headed by Jürgen Mossack, a Panamanian of German origin.
“Together,” Fonseca later mused to a journalist, “we have created a monster.”
Both men had international pedigrees and backgrounds in the worlds of money, power and secrets.
Fonseca was born in Panama in 1952 and studied law and political science at the University of Panama and the London School of Economics. As a young man, he once recalled, he hoped to save the world, first yearning to be a priest and later working for five years for the United Nations in Geneva.
“I didn’t save anything, I didn’t make any change,” he recalled in a television interview in 2008. “I decided then, as I was a little more mature, to dedicate myself to my profession, to have a family, to get married and have a regular life … As one gets older, you turn more materialistic.”
Mossack was born in Germany in 1948. He moved to Panama with his family in the early 1960s, according to his law partner.
Mossack’s father had been a member of the Waffen-SS, the notorious armed wing of the Nazi Party during World War II, according to U.S. Army intelligence files obtained by ICIJ.
After the war the father offered his services to the U.S. government as an informant, the files show, claiming “he was about to join a clandestine organization, either of former Nazis now turned Communist . . . or of unconverted Nazis cloaking themselves as Communists.” An Army intelligence officer wrote that the offer to spy for the U.S. might simply be “a shrewd attempt to get out of an awkward situation.”
Nevertheless, the old intelligence files indicate that Mossack’s father later ended up in Panama, where he offered to spy, this time for the CIA, on Communist activity in nearby Cuba.
After earning a law degree in Panama in 1973, the son worked for a time as a lawyer in London before returning to Panama to start the firm that he would later merge to form Mossack Fonseca & Co.
Today, both partners move in the highest circles of Panamanian society.
As well as being a lawyer, Fonseca leads an equally high profile second life as an award-winning novelist. Among his books is “Mister Politicus, ” a political thriller that, his literary website says, “articulates the tangled processes that unscrupulous officials use to gain power and achieve their detestable ambitions.”
Fonseca knows the world of politics through his work until recently as a top adviser to the Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela.
Fonseca announced in early March that he was taking a leave of absence from that position after allegations that the Mossack Fonseca’s Brazilian office was involved in a still-growing bribery and money-laundering scandal centered on Brazil’s state-controlled oil company. He took the action, he said, “to defend my honor and my firm and my country.”
Denying any involvement in wrong-doing during a television interview, he used an analogy the company has employed before, saying that if an offshore firm is put to bad use, the company is no more culpable than an automobile factory that built a car later used in a robbery.
Mossack is a member of the prestigious Club Union, where his daughter Nicole made her debut in 2008. He also served on the Conarex, Panama’s council on foreign relations, from 2009 to 2014.
Mossack’s holdings, according to the files obtained by ICIJ, include a teak plantation and other real estate, an executive helicopter, a yacht named Rex Maris and a collection of gold coins.
Path Breaking in the BVI
The merger that created Mossack Fonseca came at a difficult time in Panama’s history. The country faced political and economic instability under military dictator Manuel Noriega, who was getting unwelcome attention because of growing evidence that he was involved in money laundering and drug running.
In 1987, with Panama under a shadow, Mossack Fonseca made its first big move abroad, establishing a branch in the British Virgin Islands, which a few years before had passed a law that made it easy to set up offshore companies without public disclosure of owners and directors.
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“Mossack Fonseca was the first to come from Panama to the BVI and others followed,” Rosemarie Flax, Mossack Fonseca’s longtime managing director there, told a British Virgin Islands news outlet in May 2014.
Today, the British Virgin Islands are home to about 40 percent of the world’s offshore companies. Of the companies that appear in Mossack Fonseca’s files, one out of every two companies - more than 113,000 - were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Tales of the South Pacific
Mossack Fonseca made another significant move in 1994.
It helped the tiny nation of Niue - a South Pacific coral outcrop with a population of fewer than 2,000 - craft legislation that provided for incorporation of offshore companies. The law firm had picked Niue, Mossack later told Agence France-Presse, because it wanted a location in an Asia-Pacific time zone and because it would face no competitors: “If we had a jurisdiction that was small, and we had it from the beginning, we could offer people a stable environment, a stable price.”
The firm then signed a 20-year-deal with the small atoll’s government for exclusive rights to register offshore companies in Niue. Importantly, Niue offered registration in Chinese or Cyrillic characters, making it attractive to Chinese and Russian customers.
By 2001, Mossack Fonseca was doing so much business out of Niue that it was paying the equivalent of $1.6 million of the Niue government’s projected $2 million annual budget.
But the firm’s cozy relations with the island nation also began attracting unwanted scrutiny.
That same year the U.S. State Department questioned the “awkward sharing arrangements” between Niue and Mossack Fonseca and warned that Niue’s offshore industry had been “linked with the laundering of criminal proceeds from Russia and South America. ”
The Financial Action Taskforce, an intergovernmental organization set up by major nations to combat money laundering, put Niue on a blacklist of jurisdictions that were failing to take steps to prevent money laundering, threatening economic sanctions.
Though Mossack denied that Niue was involved in money laundering, in 2001 the Bank of New York and Chase Manhattan imposed embargoes on transfers of dollars to Niue. In 2003, Niue declined to renew four Mossack Fonseca-incorporated companies, signaling that it would be shutting down the firm’s exclusive franchise .
Shifting Operations
Losing Niue didn’t slow Mossack Fonseca down. It simply shifted its operations, with the law firm encouraging customers who had companies in Niue to simply re-incorporate in the nearby nation of Samoa.
The switch was part of a pattern that emerges in the documents. When legal crackdowns have hindered Mossack Fonseca’s ability to serve its clients, it has quickly adapted and found other places to work.
When the British Virgin Islands cracked down on bearer shares in 2005 , Mossack Fonseca moved that particular business to Panama.
Companies that have bearer shares don’t display an owner’s name. If they’re in your hands, you own them. They have long been considered a vehicle for money laundering and other wrongdoing, and have been gradually disappearing worldwide. In some jurisdictions, they are still allowed, although subject to more restrictions.
Mossack Fonseca’s ability to move its business swiftly shows up in a big increase in incorporations in one of those jurisdictions, the Caribbean island Anguilla, which saw the number of companies incorporated there more than double between 2010 and 2011. Anguilla is now one of Mossack Fonseca’s top four jurisdictions for incorporations.
Mossack Fonseca has also expanded its operations to take care of the additional needs of its customers, including registering private aircraft and yachts.
By 2006, according to the files, Mossack Fonseca expanded its business further by handling the finances of some clients or, as the company described it, “discretionary portfolio management.”
According to the documents the firm’s in-house asset manager operations - called Mossfon Asset Management S.A., or MAMSA - handled more than 4,700 transactions and at least $1.2 billion in client money between mid-2007 and mid-2015.
MAMSA worked with several banks, including at least two that have been the subjects of money laundering investigations: Banca Privada d’Andorra, accused by the U.S. Treasury Department in a 2015 report of money laundering for powerful criminal gangs, and Deutsche Bank Switzerland, whose parent company has been investigated by authorities in the United Kingdom and the United States for possible money laundering for Russian clients. The U.S. treasury withdrew its finding on Banca Privada d’Andorra on Feb. 19, 2016, saying that it “no longer operates in a manner that poses a threat to the U.S. financial system.”
Secrecy for Sale
The files show that as well as Deutsche Bank, the firm works with some of the world’s other biggest financial institutions, such as HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS, and Commerzbank, in some cases to help the banks’ clients set up complex structures that make it hard for tax collectors and investigators to track the flow of money from one place to another.
Mossack Fonseca said that allegation that it provides structures designed to hide the identity of owners is “completely unsupported and false.”
Société Générale and Credit Suisse said they emphasize tax compliance and are vigilant against fraud and money laundering.
Credit Suisse said that, since 2013, it has been putting in place programs that ask private clients to provide evidence of tax compliance or lose their banking relationship.
“The allegations are historical, in some cases dating back 20 years,
predating our significant, well-publicized reforms implemented over the last few years,” said Rob Sherman, a spokesman for HSBC in New York.
UBS said it knows the identity of the owners of all companies that it is asked to work with and has strict anti-money-laundering rules. Deutsche Bank noted that it reached an agreement Nov. 24, 2015 with the U.S. Justice Department to pay $31 million in exchange for a non-prosecution agreement in a U.S. investigation of Swiss banks that helped U.S. citizens evade taxes.
Commerzbank said it would have no comment.
The real owners of bank accounts that appear under the name of anonymous offshore companies registered by Mossack Fonseca may be hidden behind so-called nominee directors - stand-in directors supplied by Mossack Fonseca - who provide cover for the real owners.
Depending on how much a client pays, more than one secrecy jurisdiction and more than one anonymous company can be involved, adding to the frustration of authorities if they try to trace the real owners.
In Panama, Mossack Fonseca’s products include private foundations, which are not subject to taxes in Panama and operate under a law that does not require the names of the founders or beneficiaries to be revealed.
Other activities found in the files include Mossack Fonseca changing and backdating documents when a client is in trouble and allowing customers to hide their assets by setting up foundations in Panama that initially list non-profits such as the World Wildlife Fund as the beneficiary but allow the customer to change the beneficiary at will.
Backdating is a common industry practice, sometimes reflecting the date of a decision made before it was recorded, Mossack Fonseca said. The aim “is not to cover up or hide unlawful acts.”
In one case, the firm helped a financial advice author from New York hide $1 million from the United States Internal Revenue Service by providing the author with “a natural person nominee” - a straw man who worked for Mossack Fonseca - who pretended to be the owner of an investment account with HSBC bank in Guernsey, an island nation in the English Channel.
“We do not provide beneficiary services to deceive banks,” said Mossack Fonseca in written answers to ICIJ.
Most Wanted
Though Mossack Fonseca publicly says it “conducts exhaustive due diligence to verify the legitimacy of each our clients” and says it would never work with political grafters, criminals or other shady characters, the firm’s internal records paint a different picture.
An analysis by ICIJ found, for example, that Mossack Fonseca has worked with at least 33 companies and people blacklisted by U.S. authorities because of their links to terrorism, narcotics trafficking or because they aided rogue regimes such as North Korea or Iran.
Mossack Fonseca said it “does not foster or promote unlawful acts” and has “never knowingly allowed the use of our companies” by individuals working with sanctioned governments. In most cases, the obligation to vet customers belongs to the banks, law firms and other intermediaries that are the link between the Panama firm and the owners of their shell companies, it said.
The files show that Mossack Fonseca sometimes made a financial calculation to hang onto clients who were big sources of fees for the company, even after they were revealed by authorities to be undesirable.
In other cases, Mossack Fonseca’s loose procedures allowed blacklisted individuals and other questionable clients to slip by without even the firm itself knowing with whom it was dealing.
In an episode involving Rafael Caro Quintero, the one-time head of the Guadalajara drug cartel in Mexico, the firm’s actions were apparently based on a more visceral consideration - fear.
Authorities arrested Caro Quintero in Costa Rica in 1985 for the torture and murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. He was extradited to Mexico and sentenced in 1989 to 40 years in prison. The Mexican government confiscated his wealth - including a property that belonged to an offshore company set up by Mossack Fonseca - and handed it over to Costa Rica’s government, which then passed it to Costa Rica’s National Olympic Committee.
The files show that in March 2005, Costa Rican Olympic officials asked Mossack Fonseca to help them obtain clear title to the property.
Jürgen Mossack objected. The offshore company’s shareholders would have to decide - and who they were was unknown, he said.
However, a Mossack Fonseca lawyer wrote in an internal email exchange that it “appears the real owner of the estate, and therefore of the company, was the narcotrafficker Rafael Caro Quintero.”
Mossack, one of three directors listed for the company, wasn’t interested in getting on Caro Quintero’s bad side.
“Compared to Quintero even Pablo Escobar was a baby,” he wrote in an email exchange, the upshot of which was that Mossack Fonseca would resign from its representation of Caro Quintero’s offshore. “I don’t want to be among those Quintero visits after jail.”
In 2013, Caro Quintero was released from prison on a technicality and immediately disappeared. He remains at large and is back on Interpol’s Most Wanted list.
Playing defense
Despite the notoriety of some of its clients, Mossack Fonseca has managed to keep a remarkably low profile. The Economist called it “the tight-lipped Mossack Fonseca” in a 2012 article about offshore middlemen.
That same year, in July 2012 according to the files, the firm engaged the services of Mercatrade S.A., a company that provides “online reputation management.”
The contract promises to launder Mossack Fonseca’s image by removing negative entries on the Internet related to 12 keywords in English and Spanish: “Lavado de dinero, lavado de activos, evasión fiscal, fraude fiscal, Delito, Trafico de armas, Money Laundering, Tax Evasion, Tax Fraud, dirty Money, scandal, escándalo.”
Mossack Fonseca has since retained one of the world’s most powerful public relations agencies, Burson-Marsteller, which specializes in representing controversial clients, including dictators in Argentina, Indonesia and Romania and Union Carbide after a deadly chemical explosion in Bhopal, India.
Despite the attempts at public relations, nations have begun to take a harder look at Mossack Fonseca’s practices.
In 2012 and 2013 regulators in the British Virgin Islands hit the firm with a series of fines for violating the country’s anti-money-laundering rules, including a $37,500 penalty for failing to properly screen a “high risk” client - Alaa Mubarak, the son of Egypt’s ousted former dictator.
In February 2015, German authorities launched a series of raids on the Commerzbank office and private homes in Frankfurt. Süddeutsche Zeitung reported at the time that the German authorities were considering legal actions against Mossack Fonseca employees for possible contributions to tax evasion involving the bank’s offices in nearby Luxembourg.
In early 2016 in Brazil, Mossack Fonseca became one of the targets of a bribery and money laundering investigation dubbed “Operation Car Wash,” which is rapidly growing into one of the biggest corruption scandals in Latin American history.
Prosecutors allege that Brazilian businesses cooperated with each other to divide up the bidding for contracts with state-controlled oil conglomerate Petrobras, inflating prices and using the extra money to bribe politicians and oil company officials and to enrich themselves.
Brazilian prosecutors claim Mossack Fonseca’s office in Brazil helped some of the defendants by creating shell companies that were used to commit crimes. At a news conference in January 2016, they called Mossack Fonseca “a big money launderer” and announced they had filed criminal charges against five employees of Mossack Fonseca’s Brazilian office, involving crimes ranging from money laundering to destroying and hiding documents.
The firm denies any wrongdoing in the case. It said in a statement that the Mossack Fonseca office in Brazil is a franchise, and the Panama law firm, which practices only in Panama, “is being erroneously implicated in issues for which it has no responsibility.”
The argument was similar to the one used in Vegas.
The recently settled court action in Las Vegas was begun by a U.S. company, NML Capital, which is controlled by billionaire investor Paul Singer - a hedge fund manager perhaps best known for his massive donations to the U.S. Republican Party.
Mossack Fonseca was not a defendant, but it has been the subject of court orders seeking to obtain information about Nevada companies that the hedge fund claimed had been set up through Mossack Fonseca by Lázaro Báez, a businessman close to former Argentine presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández.
Internal emails obtained by ICIJ show Mossack Fonseca employees in Panama scrambled to hide or destroy evidence of the firm’s control of MF Nevada out of concern that the court case might lead to a search of the Nevada branch.
Another concern, the emails show, was whether the manager of the MF Nevada branch, Patricia Amunategui, could be forced to testify. In one email, a Mossack Fonseca official said the parent firm wanted her to “behave as if she was a provider” - acting as if she was leading an independent U.S. company that had a business relationship with Mossack Fonseca but no ownership connection.
But Mossack Fonseca officials worried that she wasn’t savvy enough to pull it off.
Mossack Fonseca’s IT manager wrote that IT staffers were concerned Amunategui “does not have the skills to pass a basic audit without allowing ourselves to be in evidence - Look out!!!. . . I’m deeply worried about Mrs. Patricia forgetting things and getting very nervous. I think that in this situation it could easily become clear that we are hiding something.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach rejected the parent firm’s attempt to distance itself from MF Nevada.
He noted that the branch manager’s contract was signed by the firm’s partners, Mossack and Fonseca, and that she received “all of her directions” from a Mossack Fonseca employee who lives and works in Panama. “Mossack Fonseca & Co.’s own website advertises the services of M.F. Corporate Services as its own,” the judge wrote.
The judge ruled in March 2015 that Mossack Fonseca and MF Nevada were one in the same.
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby JackRiddler » Mon Apr 04, 2016 12:09 am

This is, according to what I've read on SZ, a collection of documents many times bigger than all of the Wikileaks hauls combined, and allows a sonogram far beyond Mossack and deep into the global offshore economy.

If everyone on this board hadn't gotten so damn old here, and so damn jaded, or left, we'd be treating this as some kind of mother haul of actual evidence on the global elite we're always going on about. And from a firm founded by a guy who's father was in the SS, no less! Though it's not out-there searcheable yet, is it? Many times bigger than Wikileaks but for now tightly held.
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby coffin_dodger » Mon Apr 04, 2016 2:05 am

JR said:
If everyone on this board hadn't gotten so damn old here, and so damn jaded, or left, we'd be treating this as some kind of mother haul of actual evidence on the global elite we're always going on about.


Yes, let's herd all those viewing through the Conspirascope towards spending ages analysing and drawing conclusions from a series a documents that have been released to the mainstream by an organisation that is funded by The Open Society, which conspicuously does not include any references to US or UK elites. LOL!
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby lucky » Mon Apr 04, 2016 6:34 am

Over 2 terabytes of info - its all over the UK press today, could get very sticky for some people and a great spectator sport for the rest of us. But what is the subtext to it all we are sensible enough to know that nothing gets leaked and released unless TPTB want it to..imo anyway.. Interesting that one name that is being spoken about out of a handful is Putin while others are referred to as 'business men, politcos etc.
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby conniption » Mon Apr 04, 2016 7:12 am

^^^

RT

Cameron's dad, senior Tories’ offshore asset dealings exposed & UK media still focus on Putin


Published time: 4 Apr, 2016

Sections of the British public have slammed their local media outlets for ignoring the fact Prime Minister David Cameron’s father was caught up in a massive data leak involving possible tax evasion.

A huge leak of more than 11.5 million documents from a Panama-based law firm saw the British media jump to accuse President Vladimir Putin of corruption, despite the Russian president not being named in any of the papers.

>snip<

The Independent did finally get around to publishing a story about Cameron’s father and senior Tories having offshore accounts to hide their wealth. However, on the Guardian, there is not a photograph or word to be said about the British prime minister on its front page – just a big photograph of Putin.
continued at link...
https://www.rt.com/uk/338300-cameron-pu ... ma-papers/


~~~

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Re: Panama Papers

Postby conniption » Mon Apr 04, 2016 7:42 am

Moon of Alabama
(embedded links)

April 04, 2016

Selective Leaks Of The #PanamaPapers Create Huge Blackmail Potential


A real leak of data from a law firm in Panama would be very interesting. Many rich people and/or politicians hide money in shell companies that such firms in Panama provide. But the current heavily promoted "leak" of such data to several NATO supporting news organization and a US government financed "Non Government Organization" is just a lame attempt to smear some people the U.S. empire dislikes. It also creates a huge blackmail opportunity by NOT publishing certain data in return for this or that desired favor.

Already some 16 month ago Ken Silverstein reported for Vice on a big shady shell company provider, Mossak Fonseca in Panama. (Pierre Omidyar's Intercept, for which Silverstein was then working, refused to publish the piece.) Yves Smith published several big stories about the Mossak Fonseca money laundering business. Silverstein also repeated the well known fact that Rami Makhlouf, a rich cousin of the Syrian president Assad, had some money hidden in Mossak Fonseca shell companies. He explains:

To conduct business, shell companies like Drex need a registered agent, sometimes an attorney, who files the required incorporation papers and whose office usually serves as the shell's address. This process creates a layer between the shell and its owner, especially if the dummy company is filed in a secrecy haven where ownership information is guarded behind an impenetrable wall of laws and regulations. In Makhlouf's case—and, I discovered, in the case of various other crooked businessmen and international gangsters—the organization that helped incorporate his shell company and shield it from international scrutiny was a law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which had served as Drex's registered agent from July 4, 2000, to late 2011.


A year ago someone provided tons of data from Mossak Fonseca to a German newpaper, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The Munich daily is politically on the center right and staunchly pro NATO. It cooperates with the Guardian, the BBC, Le Monde, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and some other news organization who are all known supporters of the establishment.

The Sueddeutsche claims that the "leaked" data is about some 214,000 shell companies and 14,000 Mossak Fonseca clients. There is surely a lot of hidden dirt in there. How many U.S. Senators are involved in such companies? Which European Union politicians? What are the big Wall Street banks and hedge funds hiding in Panama? Oh, sorry. The Sueddeutsche and its partners will not answer those questions. Here is how they "analyzed" the data:

The journalists compiled lists of important politicians, international criminals, and well-known professional athletes, among others. The digital processing made it possible to then search the leak for the names on these lists. The "party donations scandal" list contained 130 names, and the UN sanctions list more than 600. In just a few minutes, the powerful search algorithm compared the lists with the 11.5 million documents.

For each name found, a detailed research process was initiated that posed the following questions: what is this person’s role in the network of companies? Where does the money come from? Where is it going? Is this structure legal?


Essentially the Sueddeutsche compiled a list of known criminals and people and organizations the U.S. dislikes and cross checked them with the "leaked" database. Selected hits were then further evaluated. The outcome are stories like the annual attempt to smear the Russian president Putin, who is not even mentioned in the Mossak Fonseca data, accusations against various people of the soccer association FIFA, much disliked by the U.S., and a few mentions of other miscreants of minor relevancy.

There is no story about any U.S. person, none at all, nor about any important NATO politician. The highest political "casualty" so far is the irrelevant Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson who, together with his wife, owned one of the shell companies. There is no evidence that the ownership or the money held by that company were illegal.

So where is the beef?

As former UK ambassador Craig Murray writes, the beef (if there is any at all) is in what is hidden by the organizations that manage the "leak":

The filtering of this Mossack Fonseca information by the corporate media follows a direct western governmental agenda. There is no mention at all of use of Mossack Fonseca by massive western corporations or western billionaires – the main customers. And the Guardian is quick to reassure that “much of the leaked material will remain private.”

What do you expect? The leak is being managed by the grandly but laughably named “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists”, which is funded and organised entirely by the USA’s Center for Public Integrity. Their funders include

Ford Foundation
Carnegie Endowment
Rockefeller Family Fund
W K Kellogg Foundation
Open Society Foundation (Soros)


The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is part of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) which is financed by the U.S. government through USAID.

The "leak" is of data selected by U.S. friendly organization out of a database, likely obtained by U.S. secret services, which can be assumed to include much dirt about "western" persons and organizations.

To only publish very selected data from the "leaked" data has two purposes:

>> It smears various "enemies of the empire" even if only by association like the presidents Putin and Assad.
>> It lets other important people, those mentioned in the database but not yet published about, know that the U.S. or its "media partner" can, at any time, expose their dirty laundry to the public. It is thereby a perfect blackmailing instrument.

The engineered "leak" of the "Panama Papers" is a limited hangout designed to incriminate a few people and organization the U.S. dislikes. It is also a demonstration of the "torture tools" to the people who did business with Mossak Fonseca but have not (yet) been published about. They are now in the hands of those who control the database. They will have to do as demanded or else ...

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Re: Panama Papers

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Apr 04, 2016 10:08 am

Corporate Media Gatekeepers Protect Western 1% From Panama Leak 218
3 Apr, 2016 in Uncategorized by craig
Whoever leaked the Mossack Fonseca papers appears motivated by a genuine desire to expose the system that enables the ultra wealthy to hide their massive stashes, often corruptly obtained and all involved in tax avoidance. These Panamanian lawyers hide the wealth of a significant proportion of the 1%, and the massive leak of their documents ought to be a wonderful thing.

Unfortunately the leaker has made the dreadful mistake of turning to the western corporate media to publicise the results. In consequence the first major story, published today by the Guardian, is all about Vladimir Putin and a cellist on the fiddle. As it happens I believe the story and have no doubt Putin is bent.

But why focus on Russia? Russian wealth is only a tiny minority of the money hidden away with the aid of Mossack Fonseca. In fact, it soon becomes obvious that the selective reporting is going to stink.

The Suddeutsche Zeitung, which received the leak, gives a detailed explanation of the methodology the corporate media used to search the files. The main search they have done is for names associated with breaking UN sanctions regimes. The Guardian reports this too and helpfully lists those countries as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia and Syria. The filtering of this Mossack Fonseca information by the corporate media follows a direct western governmental agenda. There is no mention at all of use of Mossack Fonseca by massive western corporations or western billionaires – the main customers. And the Guardian is quick to reassure that “much of the leaked material will remain private.”

What do you expect? The leak is being managed by the grandly but laughably named “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists”, which is funded and organised entirely by the USA’s Center for Public Integrity. Their funders include

Ford Foundation
Carnegie Endowment
Rockefeller Family Fund
W K Kellogg Foundation
Open Society Foundation (Soros)

among many others. Do not expect a genuine expose of western capitalism. The dirty secrets of western corporations will remain unpublished.

Expect hits at Russia, Iran and Syria and some tiny “balancing” western country like Iceland. A superannuated UK peer or two will be sacrificed – someone already with dementia.

The corporate media – the Guardian and BBC in the UK – have exclusive access to the database which you and I cannot see. They are protecting themselves from even seeing western corporations’ sensitive information by only looking at those documents which are brought up by specific searches such as UN sanctions busters. Never forget the Guardian smashed its copies of the Snowden files on the instruction of MI6.

What if they did Mossack Fonseca database searches on the owners of all the corporate media and their companies, and all the editors and senior corporate media journalists? What if they did Mossack Fonseca searches on all the most senior people at the BBC? What if they did Mossack Fonseca searches on every donor to the Center for Public Integrity and their companies?

What if they did Mossack Fonseca searches on every listed company in the western stock exchanges, and on every western millionaire they could trace?

That would be much more interesting. I know Russia and China are corrupt, you don’t have to tell me that. What if you look at things that we might, here in the west, be able to rise up and do something about?

And what if you corporate lapdogs let the people see the actual data?

UPDATE

Hundreds of thousands of people have read this post in the 11 hours since it was published – despite it being overnight here in the UK. There are 235,918 “impressions” on twitter (as twitter calls them) and over 3,700 people have “shared” so far on Facebook, bringing scores of new readers each.

I would remind you that this blog is produced free for the public good and you are welcome to republish or re-use this article or any other material freely anywhere without requesting further permission.
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby Sounder » Mon Apr 04, 2016 11:02 am

Hmmmm, could there be good reason to be jaded?

and so damn jaded, or left, we'd be treating this as some kind of mother haul of actual evidence on the global elite we're always going on about. And from a firm founded by a guy who's father was in the SS, no less! Though it's not out-there searcheable yet, is it? Many times bigger than Wikileaks but for now tightly held.
:lol: :jumping: :lol:

Yes, for now tightly held, hey maybe some super hacker can re-hack the documents and we could get a clue.

Fat chance, as it's yet another tool used to jerk us around.
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby slimmouse » Mon Apr 04, 2016 11:24 am

Its a leak all right.

Unfortuneately my bladder leaks more than this, but thats cos Im getting old.

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Re: Panama Papers

Postby JackRiddler » Mon Apr 04, 2016 1:23 pm

coffin_dodger » Mon Apr 04, 2016 1:05 am wrote:JR said:
If everyone on this board hadn't gotten so damn old here, and so damn jaded, or left, we'd be treating this as some kind of mother haul of actual evidence on the global elite we're always going on about.


Yes, let's herd all those viewing through the Conspirascope towards spending ages analysing and drawing conclusions from a series a documents that have been released to the mainstream by an organisation that is funded by The Open Society, which conspicuously does not include any references to US or UK elites. LOL!


We can always rely on your ignorance.

So far, there's solid info in there about money laundering by Cameron's family. So the Guardian reliably tries to spin it through vague allegations as if it's about all about Putin - exposing themselves more than anything else. And you're lapping it right up. Who's your latest imagined Soros-Jew "organisation," by the way - Sueddeutsche Zeitung?! And I love "Conspirascope" as perfectly blind projection on your part. How did I not have you on ignore yet for a better reading experience?
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Re: Panama Papers

Postby JackRiddler » Mon Apr 04, 2016 1:25 pm

Sounder » Mon Apr 04, 2016 10:02 am wrote:Fat chance, as it's yet another tool used to jerk us around.


I don't know about you, but please don't ever use that pronoun again as if it would include the two of us. It would be my special pleasure to kick you off this site, if I could. A little bit petty, no? But justified.
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