El Salvador’s attorney general’s office announced on Twitter that government agents seized numerous computers and documents during a Friday raid on Mossack Fonseca’s offices in the capital, San Salvador, reported Vice News on Saturday. The firm’s founding partner, Ramon Fonseca, said the company has not yet been approached by any investigators, but the raid indicates that this may well change.
“Every time there’s something in the newspaper, the authorities announce they’ll launch investigations. We’re fully cooperating but we haven’t been contacted by anyone yet,” he said.
Attorney General Douglas Melendez said, in a press conference, they became suspicious when Mossack Fonseca took down the sign at their offices on Thursday evening. Managers insisted that the sign was removed as they were relocating the offices.
“At this moment we cannot speak about (any) crimes; all we can do at this moment is our job,” said Melendez.
The authorities said they were investigating whether any Salvadorian citizens had opened accounts or set up companies with Mossack Fonseca after the local news site, El Faro reported that at least 33 of the 220-plus offshore companies set up from 2000 to 2015 were for Salvadorian clients. The report further claimed these clients were making use of the firm to hide their assets from the government. Last year El Salvador became the 86th signatory on the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters agreement, joining the international fight against tax evasion.
The first batch of the Panama Papers that was released last weekend divulged an enormous web of offshore operations set up by Mossack Fonseca to be used by the world’s most affluent people to evade taxes, skirt economic sanctions, and accumulate wealth. Over 11.5 million documents were sent from an anonymous source to Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, who in turn shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. These files have exposed Mossack Fonseca’s links with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, and numerous others, and have resulted in Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, The Prime Minister of Iceland, stepping down after his secret offshore assets were exposed. British Prime Minister David Cameron has also been implicated after evidence was found that he may have benefited from his father’s offshore funds.
Fonseca told Reuters on Tuesday that contrary to initial speculation, the leak was not orchestrated by an insider but was the work of an external hacker. He said he knows which country the hacker comes from, but did not divulge that information. The bestselling novelist and former presidential adviser has, in various statements, insisted that Mossack Fonseca’s business is strictly above the board, saying many other companies deal in offshore accounts.
Panamanian citizens are extremely unhappy with the Panama Papers. “Panama-stupid-Papers is the only thing on the news now,” said student Barbara Ames. “This happened all over the world, not just in Panama.”
“We’ve been internationally cataloged as corrupt money launderers,” said lawyer Daniela Arias. “It’s a country with almost four million people and we cannot allow it to be denigrated.”
Former tourism minister and singer Rubén Blades posted the following on his website.
“The outrage shown by France, Britain and other governments looks hypocritical and suspicious, Their anger is directed only against a law firm and the nation where its office operates, and not against the laws of their own countries.”
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has pledged to form an international commission of financial experts to reassess the country’s regulation of financial and legal services, and has said the papers should not be regarded as “a problem of our country.”
[AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco]