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Monday July 15, 2024

‘Panama Papers’ trial to begin eight years after tax scandal

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister at the time, was disqualified for life from office after being implicated in the documents

By Reuters
April 09, 2024
A plate of the Geneva office of the law firm Mossack Fonseca is seen in Switzerland. — AFP/File
A plate of the Geneva office of the law firm Mossack Fonseca is seen in Switzerland. — AFP/File

PANAMA CITY: Twenty-seven people are set to go on trial on Monday for money laundering in connection with the “Panama Papers” tax evasion scandal, which revealed how many of the world’s wealthy stashed assets in offshore companies.

The 2016 revelations rocked governments, exposed high-profile personalities, triggered scores of investigations around the world and dealt a blow to Panama’s reputation as an offshore financial hub.

The defendants due to go on trial in a Panamanian criminal court include Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca Mora, the founders of the now-defunct law firm at the center of the scandal.

The leaked trove of 11.5 million files from their company Mossack Fonseca implicated influential figures including billionaires, politicians and even sports stars.

Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign after it was revealed his family had offshore accounts.

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister at the time, was disqualified for life from office after being implicated in the documents.

Others implicated included former British premier David Cameron, football star Lionel Messi, Argentina’s then president Mauricio Macri, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, to name but a few.

The files were leaked to a German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Many of those caught up in the scandal put forward reasons to explain their offshore presence and said they did not act illegally.

Even so, Mossack Fonseca said in 2018 that it would close due to “irreparable damage” to its reputation.

Panama has adopted new legislation since the scandal broke out, but the Central American country remains on a European Union tax haven blacklist.

The fact that part of its laws against money laundering did not exist when the Panama Papers revelations emerged could complicate efforts by the judiciary to achieve convictions.

In Panama, the crime of tax evasion has only been punishable since 2019 and for amounts greater than $300,000 annually.

In 2023, Mossack and Fonseca were tried in Panama for alleged money laundering in Brazil’s “Car Wash” corruption scandal involving construction group Odebrecht.