The US Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the tax avoidance claims contained in the leak of some 11.5m confidential documents from a Panama law firm, London’s Guardian newspaper is reporting.
According to the Guardian, which was one of the 107 media organisations around the world to which the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists provided the documents that were said to have originated in the Panama offices of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, Preet Bharara, the US attorney for Manhattan, said he had “opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant”.
The Guardian added that Bharara had written to the ICIJ “to ask for further information to assist with his investigation”. The article, which may be viewed by clicking here, includes a photographed copy of Bharara’s email.
The Guardian‘s report was published Tuesday night local time, and his since been picked up by other media organisations, including Reuters.
The Guardian and other media organisations that picked up on the story noted that Bharara has a reputation as something of a crusader, citing, for example, his having charged some 96 Wall Street executives with offences connected to insider trading since he became the US attorney for Manhattan in 2009. The Independent quoted the New York Post as saying he had engaged in a “six-year battle against Wall Street”.
In the email Bharara wrote to the ICIJ, Bharara says:
“I write in regard to your organization’s “Panama Papers” project and the publically-released documents obtained from Mossack Fonseca & Co.
“The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (the “Office”) has opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant.
“The Office would greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak as soon as possible with any ICIJ employee or representative involved in the Panama Papers Project in order to discuss this matter further.”
As reported, the ICIJ received the confidential and incriminating Mossack Fonseca documents from Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, which in turn is understood to have obtained them from an as-yet-unidentified source. They are said to date back 40 years
Since the contents of the documents began to be published on 3 April, there’ve been numerous repercussions, including the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, which followed protests by as many as 22,000 people in the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavik, and the returning of Panama by France to its “blacklist” of non-compliant jurisdictions. Australia’s tax office has said it is looking into the tax affairs of more than 800 high-net-worth Australians who turned out to be clients of Mossack Fonseca.
Some are calling the Panama Papers the biggest leak of confidential information ever to hit the global financial services industry.