A year since the leak of some 11 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, the owners of the vast wealth hidden away by the Panamanian law firm appear safe from everything but embarrassment. The founders of the law firm were less fortunate.
Juergen Mossack and his colleague Ramon Fonseca, were arrested in Panama City in February in connection with Brazil’s sprawling car wash corruption scandal. The investigation is understood to be seeking possible links to the Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht. Britain’s Guardian reports that Fonseca denies his firm had a connection to Odebrecht, which has admitted to bribing officials in Panama and other countries to obtain government contracts in the region between 2010 and 2014.
The so-called Panama Papers leak exposed corrupt officials and regimes, money laundering, tax evasion on a massive scale and sanctions busting, but the naming and shaming was short-lived. The anniversary promises to bring the names back into the headlines, revitalising public pressure for prosecutions and raising the question of whether the account holders will remain safe.
The challenges for prosecutors appear formidable. Referring mainly to tax evasion cases, Britain’s Financial Times observed at the time that leaked documents cannot be relied on in court. The newspaper noted that an earlier so-called list of client details from HSBC’s Swiss private bank revealed the limitations of using leaked data: of almost 9,000 United Kingdom tax residents whose details were shared with the British tax authorities in 2010, only one has been convicted of tax evasion.
The Panama documents held by Mossack Fonseca were passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The BBC was among 107 media organisations in 76 countries that have been analysing the documents. The British broadcaster, one of many news organisations that laid out the obstacles ahead for prosecutors, reported that there was a surge in business for Mossack Fonseca when the European Savings Directive made hiding money in Europe more difficult.
Date written/update: 2017-03-12