The Latest: Panama to create panel to boost transparency
LONDON (AP) — The Latest on the publication by a coalition of media outlets of an investigation into offshore financial dealings by the rich and famous (all times local):
Panama’s government is creating an international committee of experts to recommend ways to boost transparency in the Central American country’s offshore financial industry.
President Juan Carlos Varela is trying to shore up confidence in his nation’s financial industry after the leaking of 11.5 million documents from a prominent Panama-based law firm that helped create shell companies for the world’s rich and famous.
The Panamanian leader said Wednesday that the committee’s findings will be shared with other nations so joint action can be taken to boost transparency in legal and financial centers worldwide.
As he takes steps to strengthen controls, Varela is defending Panama against what he calls a “media attack” by wealthy nations that he says are ignoring their own deficiencies and unfairly stigmatizing Panama.
Mexican tax authorities say they are investigating 33 citizens of Mexico whose names are mentioned in documents in the “Panama Papers” leak.
Tax authority head Aristoteles Nunez told Radio Formula on Wednesday that some of those mentioned in the documents were already subjects of investigations. He refused to identify those people.
Nunez says authorities are looking at whether the income that contributed to any offshore account was reported in tax returns. If the income wasn’t reported, the owners could avoid fines by reporting the assets and returning the money to Mexico, as long as it was legal in origin.
Prosecutors in El Salvador also are investigating citizens mentioned in the “Panama Papers.” Chief prosecutor Douglas Melendez did not identify any of the Salvadorans and stressed that offshore accounts are not necessarily illegal.
Brazil’s UOL news portal says an offshore company created by Roberto Carlos, one of the country’s most popular singers, appears in the files of the Panamanian law firm with international offices that provide offshore financial services.
The release earlier this week of the Mossack Fonseca documents on offshore financial dealings of wealthy, famous and powerful people around the world has raised questions over the widespread use of such tactics to avoid taxes and skirt financial oversight.
Blogger Fernando Rodrigues said Wednesday on UOL that Carlos is one of the shareholders of Happy Song, an offshore company created in 2011 to manage his career.
Carlos’ press office told UOL that the company is duly registered with Brazilian tax authorities and the country’s Central Bank.
FIFA’s ethics committee says Uruguayan lawyer Juan Pedro Damiani has resigned as a member of its judging panel while under investigation.
Damiani’s links to disgraced former FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo are being investigated by FIFA ethics prosecutors after he was identified on Sunday in a vast leak of data from a Panama law firm specializing in offshore accounts.
Damiani did not tell the FIFA ethics committee until March that he had a “business relationship” with Figueredo, a fellow Uruguayan who was arrested in Zurich last May.
Figueredo was indicted by American federal prosecutors and later extradited to Uruguay. He pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges and acknowledged taking bribes.
Damiani, president of the Penarol club, had been a FIFA ethics committee member since 2006.
UEFA has been raided by Swiss police and has handed over evidence of a Champions League television rights contract with an offshore marketing agency implicated in the FIFA bribery scandal.
The Swiss attorney general’s office said it requested raids on the European soccer body and “another enterprise” for suspected criminal mismanagement and misappropriation linked to dealings with Cross Trading, an offshore registered agency. Cross Trading is owned by two men indicted last year by American federal prosecutors who are working with Swiss counterparts to investigate suspected corruption in international soccer.
UEFA and its Champions League marketing agency — TEAM Marketing based in Lucerne, Switzerland — made a $111,000 deal with Cross Trading in 2006 for three seasons of broadcasting in Ecuador. The 2006 contract, co-signed by current FIFA President Gianni Infantino when he was UEFA legal director, was leaked from the database of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.
UEFA acknowledged that Swiss federal police “acting under a warrant” came to see its contracts with Cross Trading.
Panama is fighting back against accusations the country is a haven for money laundering.
Panama’s Foreign Relations Ministry has sent a letter to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development saying any suggestion that the country harbors shady financial dealings is categorically untrue.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said the Panama Papers leak has shown that the country tolerates a “culture of secrecy” in financial transactions. Gurria said Panama was the last major jurisdiction allowing clients to hide money from tax and law enforcement officials.
Panama responded Wednesday that it’s being unfairly singled out for criticism, and suggested a better target for investigation might be the British Virgin Islands.
The Foreign Ministry says Panama’s laws “are not fundamentally different from those of any other financial jurisdiction.”
The Panamanian law firm at the center of the huge leak of data on offshore accounts reportedly incorporated a string of companies named after James Bond films.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which says it’s one of the outlets given access to the leaked documents, says law firm Mossack Fonseca incorporated companies named Goldfinger, SkyFall, GoldenEye and Moonraker and was asked to set up a firm called Octopussy.
The OCCRP said the law firm also incorporated companies named Blofeld and Spectre, after the classic Bond villain and his organization. In addition, its report said, the files contain correspondence from a man called Austin Powers — but that apparently was his real name.
Spanish media are reporting that movie director Pedro Almodovar has canceled publicity events for his new movie “Julieta” following intense interest in the offshore company he owned with his brother years ago.
The Europa Press news agency says Almodovar canceled an appearance at a photo shoot and interviews ahead of the movie’s premiere in Madrid on Wednesday night. It will be released to the public Friday in Spain.
Almodovar’s production company El Deseo asked The Associated Press to submit questions in writing and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Julieta” is Almovodar’s 20th movie. Europa Press said actors in the movie, including Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte, Rossy de Palma, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta and Michelle Jenner went ahead and did interviews.
Almodovar’s brother Agustin on Monday blamed his lack of experience for a decision to set up an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands in 1991 that was shut down in 1994.
Authorities in the British Virgin Islands say the release of confidential files from a law firm in Panama have prompted them to investigate whether there have been any breaches of financial regulations in the Caribbean territory.
The British Virgin Islands has long played a prominent role in the offshore financial industry, and it has figured notably in the leak of documents from the Mossack-Fonseca law firm. The British territory is frequently used as a registry for offshore companies and trusts in a way that allows their owners to shield their identities from the public.
Financial regulators in BVI issued a statement saying they will “pursue a thorough investigation through the BVI’s competent authorities, and further action will be taken, where necessary.”
The BVI says it has “rigorous” regulatory oversight of its financial sector and adheres to international standards. Last year, the territory recorded 9,388 company incorporations, down from 11,436 a year earlier. The chain of islands has a population of about 30,000.
A Spanish news website says a document in the massive leak of material from a Panamanian law firm shows that Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and his ex-wife were listed as shareholders in an offshore British Virgin Islands company for about a month in 2010.
However, a statement from Vargas Llosa’s literary agent said he was surprised to hear that the two were listed as shareholders with Talome Services Corp.
News site El Confidencial said Wednesday it obtained the document from the cache of leaked material from law firm Mossack Fonseca. Its report says emails show a Vargas Llosa representative asked lawyers to remove Vargas Llosa and his ex-wife as shareholders on Oct. 6, 2010.
Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel prize on Oct. 7. El Confidencial says the company’s shareholders were changed from Vargas Llosa and his ex-wife to two Russians on Oct. 12.
The statement from Vargas Llosa’s agent says he and his ex-wife never interacted with Mossack Fonseca. It also says Vargas Llosa has complied with all tax regulations in Spain and elsewhere.
Malta’s health and energy minister is facing calls for his resignation after he was named in a leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm.
Konrad Mizzi, who is also deputy leader of the governing Labour Party, has acknowledged owning a company in Panama which is held by a trust in New Zealand.
However, Mizzi insists that the leaked documents make no reference to him holding any funds in Panama. He said he has commissioned an independent tax audit to prove that he’s done nothing wrong, and that the company in Panama “will be closed soon after the tax investigation is concluded.”
The opposition Nationalist Party is holding a protest to press for Mizzi’s resignation on Sunday.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has stood by his minister, but said he will dismiss him if it emerges that what Mizzi is saying is untrue.
A lawyer for Nico Rosberg says the Formula One driver used an offshore company solely for liability reasons and to enable him to operate internationally.
German public broadcaster NDR has reported that Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca manages a company called Ambitious Group Ltd which has a contract with Mercedes for Rosberg’s “driver services.”
Mossack Fonseca is at the center of a vast leak of confidential documents detailing the offshore business arrangements of thousands of wealthy people.
Rosberg’s German lawyer Christian Schertz says British Virgin Islands-registered Ambitious Group wasn’t used for tax avoidance.
Schertz said in a statement late Tuesday that “tax-wise, Mr. Rosberg acted correctly in every way.”
He says Rosberg, who won Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, is registered in Monaco for tax purposes and receives all payments there.
France’s far-right National Front party is filing law suits for defamation against media who imply that it or leader Marine Le Pen — who plans to run in the 2017 presidential race — may be implicated in the Panama papers scandal.
Party lawyer David Dassa-Le Deist issued a statement Wednesday saying defamation proceedings “have been started on this day.”
The statement did not name the media being targeted. However, it noted the daily Le Monde’s article Tuesday looking into alleged offshore dealings by a longtime Le Pen acquaintance whose company provides publicity for electoral campaigns. The paper also examined potential but unproven offshore interests of Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, via a former employee.
Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Front portrays globalization as one of the enemies to redressing the French economy and preserving the nation’s identity, making any innuendo that people linked to the party may allegedly be using foreign shell companies to hide funds a sensitive issue.
The president of Ukraine has defended himself in the massive leak of records on offshore accounts that has named political officials, business and celebrities from around the world.
Petro Poroshenko said at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday that an offshore holding company set up for his candy business was a necessary step to put his assets into a blind trust when he became president in 2014.
The leaks have raised suspicion that such offshore entities were set up to avoid taxes. Iceland’s prime minister resigned as the scandal deepened on Tuesday.
Poroshenko insisted that his case is different than Iceland’s or Russia’s, and that the company was not set up to minimize taxes.
He is in Japan this week to meet the Japanese prime minister and business leaders.
India’s top Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan has denied any connection to four shipping companies registered in tax havens following the publication of the names of rich and powerful people linked to the leaks, dubbed the Panama Papers.
He was responding to a report published Monday by The Indian Express newspaper based on the Panama Papers.
Bachhan tweeted an image of his statement late Tuesday: “It is possible that my name has been misused.”
He said he did not know any of the companies he was allegedly linked to and has never been a director for any of them.
He added: “I have paid all my taxes including on monies spent by me overseas. Monies that I have remitted overseas have been in compliance with law, including remittances through LRS (Liberalized Remittance Scheme) after paying Indian taxes. In any event the news report in the Indian Express doesn’t even suggest any illegality on my part.”