The US Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into offshore financial dealings exposed by the Panama Papers – leaked documents that showed money laundering and tax avoidance schemes by the wealthy and powerful.
Preet Bharara, the US attorney for Manhattan, announced the probe on Wednesday in a letter to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which had coordinated with other media outlets to report on the about 11.5 million leaked documents. “The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant,” he said.
“The Office would greatly appreciate to 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.”
The Panama Papers have revealed how Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm, allegedly helped current and former world leaders, as well as businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars, evade or avoid paying tax via anonymously-owned shell companies and offshore accounts. A year-long probe by the investigative journalists examined the papers, which came from around 214,000 offshore entities and covered almost 40 years.
Acting in the wake of the scandal, finance chiefs of the Group of 20 meeting in Washington on Friday supported proposals requiring authorities to share the identities of shell companies’ real owners. They also backed creating a blacklist of international tax havens that do not cooperate with information-sharing programmes. The world’s business, political and even sports elite have been put on the defensive.