LONDON/PANAMA CITY: Tax authorities in many European countries along with officials from Australia and New Zealand are probing local entities named in a massive leak of data on clients of a Panama-based law firm on Sunday.
On Monday, the British government reportedly asked for a copy of leaked data on the clients of Mossack Fonseca so it can examine the information and act on any possible tax evasion. In France, President Francois Hollande promised legal proceedings against individuals named in the documents and thanked “the whistleblowers” for bringing the so-called Panama Papers to light.
“It’s good news that we are aware of these revelations because it will bring in tax revenue from those who have defrauded,” Hollande reportedly said.The Panama Papers contain tax details of hundreds of thousands of clients in more than 11.5 million documents of Mossack Fonseca. The papers, which span nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015, allegedly show that some of the companies were being used for suspected money laundering, arms and drug deals and tax evasion.
The documents emerged in an investigation published on Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and more than 100 other global news organisations.
Elsewhere in Europe, Norway’s Financial Supervisory Authority said it would ask for explanations from Norwegian banks named in the leak. Austria’s financial markets regulator is also reportedly examining whether local lenders Raiffeisen Bank International and Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg broke any anti-money laundering rules after they were named in the international data leak.
The documents also allegedly traced a network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion to close friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Guardian said. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the claims as a plot against Russia, aimed at discrediting Putin prior to parliamentary elections this week.
The Australian Tax Office said Monday that it was investigating more than 800 wealthy clients of Mossack Fonseca.
The prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, has also been accused of hiding millions of dollars of investments in his country’s banks behind a secretive offshore company. Gunnlaugsson was angry when the question was raised before him.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has not commented on his reported offshore links. Austria, Brazil and Sweden were among countries which said they had begun investigating the allegations, based on more than 11.5 million documents. Banks as well as individual clients came under the spotlight.
“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,” ICJC director Gerard Ryle said.
“The British government asked for a copy of the leaked data, which could be embarrassing for Prime Minister Cameron, who has spoken out against tax evasion and tax avoidance.
His late father, Ian Cameron, is mentioned in the files, alongside some members of his Conservative Party in the upper house of parliament, former Conservative lawmakers and party donors, British media said.
Jennie Granger, director general of enforcement and compliance at HM Revenue and Customs, said the government had a great deal of information from a wide range of sources. “We will closely examine this data and will act on it swiftly and appropriately,” she said.
Cameron´s spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the leader´s family had money invested in offshore funds set up by his father, saying it was a “private matter”.
The opposition Labour Party´s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, tweeted: “Cameron promised and has failed to end tax secrecy and crack down on ´morally unacceptable´ offshore schemes, real action is now needed.
Media reports also said the leaked data pointed to a link between a member of global soccer body FIFA´s ethics committee and a Uruguayan soccer official who was arrested last year as part of a US probe into corruption in the sport.
FIFA´s ethics committee said Juan Pedro Damiani, a member of its judgment chamber, was being investigated over a possible business relationship with fellow Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo, one of the soccer officials arrested in Zurich last year. Damiani told Reuters in Montevideo he broke off relations with Figueredo when the latter was accused of corruption.
Dutch authorities said they would investigate allegations related to the Netherlands. Sweden´s Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) has contacted authorities in Luxembourg to ask for information related to allegations that banking group Nordea helped some clients to set up accounts in offshore tax havensNordea was fined the maximum 50 million crowns ($6.14 million) in May 2015 for deficiencies in its approach to tackling money laundering.
In Brazil, the O Estado de S Paulo newspaper said politicians from seven parties were named as Mossack Fonseca clients. They included politicians from Brazil´s largest party, the PMDB, which broke away from President Dilma Rousseff´s coalition last week. No politicians from Rousseff´s Workers´ Party were mentioned in the documents, although they included at least 57 people or companies already investigated in Brazil for alleged involvement in corruption at state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
Panama, part of the Central American isthmus, is among the world´s most secretive offshore financial centres, a group that includes territories such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. It has declined to sign up to global transparency rules which international organisations have been pushing in a bid to fight tax evasion, money-laundering and other criminality.