The Panama Papers

Law firm in spotlight 'secretive, with big clients'

The building in Panama City where the Mossack Fonseca law firm offices are located.
The building in Panama City where the Mossack Fonseca law firm offices are located.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PANAMA CITY • Law firm Mossack Fonseca, founded more than 30 years ago, is a discreet outfit with a roster of big-name clients and a quiet reputation for hiding money from the taxman.

That cloak of secrecy was ripped apart when media organisations around the world published information from a massive leak from the firm's supposedly secure data centre. The data also exposed techniques allegedly used by the firm to make money trails murky, including the use of offshore havens such as the British Virgin Islands.

"This is a crime, a felony," said the firm's co-founder Ramon Fonseca, 63, of the leak. "This is an attack on Panama because certain countries don't like it that we are so competitive in attracting companies."

The company is run by the other co-founder, Mr Juergen Mossack, 68, who was born in Germany. His father was a Nazi in World War II, according to the International Consortium of Investigating Journalists (ICIJ), citing US Army records.

The ICIJ said the leak shows that half of the companies the law firm incorporated - more than 113,000 - were in the British Virgin Islands.

When the British Virgin Islands was forced to clamp down on some methods that had previously permitted anonymous ownership of companies, the law firm moved its business to Panama and to the Caribbean island of Anguilla.

In Brazil, its role in a huge bribery case involving state oil company Petrobras is under scrutiny.

Last month, Mr Fonseca, who had been an adviser to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela since 2014, declared he was taking a leave of absence.

AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Law firm in spotlight 'secretive, with big clients''. Print Edition | Subscribe