World Economy

Panama Papers: Corruption of Politicians Exposed

Panama Papers: Corruption of Politicians Exposed  Panama Papers: Corruption of Politicians Exposed

The release of the Panama Papers detailing the offshore financial structures of wealthy clients—including prominent politicians and celebrities—is a crime, according to the law firm at the center of the scandal.

Millions of documents have been leaked to media organizations across Europe apparently showing how the rich and famous can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes, news outlets reported.

The files were leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm. Ramon Fonseca, one of the founders of the Panamanian firm, told AFP the data breach is a "crime" and an "attack" on Panama.

Britain's HM Revenue and Customs has said it is prepared to follow up allegations of money laundering and tax avoidance in the wake of the revelations.

HMRC is poised to probe files that name 12 premiers as well as associates of leaders in Russia, Syria and Egypt.

The current leaders of Argentina, Ukraine and Iceland were named Sunday night. They are accused of benefiting from complex offshore structures which hide wealth worth billions of pounds in a vast network that includes sports stars and celebrities.

Among those mentioned in 11 million secret documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca were Prime Minister David Cameron's dad Ian, Tory MPs and peers.

Much tax avoidance is legal and most of those named have spoken out to deny wrongdoing.

Conduit for Criminals

But campaigners say the secrecy of tax havens—including the British Virgin Islands—allow criminals to pass unnoticed.

Robert Palmer of Global Witness, which campaigns against exploitation by big global firms, said offshore firms "can act as getaway cars for terrorists, dictators, money launderers and tax evaders all over the world."

He added: "The time has clearly come to take away the keys, by requiring the collection and publication of information on who really owns and controls these companies. This would make it much harder to launder dirty money and leave the rest of us safer as a result."

Oxfam policy head Richard Pyle added: "This leak highlights the key role that UK-linked tax havens like the British Virgin Islands play in allowing a privileged elite to dodge paying their fair share of tax.

"People in the world's poorest countries pay the highest price for the billions of lost tax money when their governments are unable to fund life-saving healthcare such as midwives and vaccinations for children."

Five current and seven former global leaders are named in the leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The current leaders include Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The list also includes: Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud–King of Saudi Arabia; Li Xiaolin–daughter of former Chinese premier Li Peng; Sergey Roldugin, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg–friends of Vladimir Putin.

Wrongdoing Denied

Also named in the full list are former leaders of Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Sudan and Ukraine.

Spokesmen for the leaders of Iceland, Argentina and Ukraine, who replied to the ICIJ's requests for comment, denied wrongdoing.

The ICIJ claimed Gunnlaugsson co-owned "a British Virgin Islands shell company called Wintris Inc., which held nearly $4 million in bonds in the three major Icelandic banks".

Iceland's leader denied he had owned an offshore company in a TV interview, saying he had always adhered to the law and adding: "I have always given all of my assets and that of my family up for taxes."

Macri's official spokesman said Fleg Trading Ltd, of which he was named as a director in the files, was related to a family business group.

'Chocolate King' businessman Poroshenko's spokesman said Prime Asset Partners, of which he was named as the sole shareholder, was part of a corporate restructuring and had no relation to political and military upheaval in Ukraine.

Also drawing attention were the associates and relations of world leaders—named in 17 separate cases in the leak.

And they name relatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to the BBC.

A chart released by the ICIJ claimed Britain has the second highest number of middlemen firms working with the Panamanian law giant.

According to the ICIJ the UK had 1,924 intermediaries—second only to Hong Kong with 2,212.

More than half of the 300,000 firms said to have used Mossack Fonseca are registered in British-administered tax havens, which Cameron has vowed to crack down on.

Three Tory peers are mentioned in the documents. They are ex-minister Michael Mates, former party donor Lord Ashcroft and Pamela Sharples.