LONDON (AFP) - A Panamanian shell company may have helped hide millions of dollars from the Brink's-Mat heist, a British gold bullion robbery that is etched in criminal folklore, leaked tax documents allege.
Dubbed the "crime of the century" by British media, the caper saw a masked gang make off with three tonnes of bullion worth nearly US$40 million (S$54 million) from a Brink's-Mat warehouse at Heathrow Airport in November 1983.
The gang tied up security guards and doused them with petrol, with one of the villains quipping "thanks so much for your help, have a nice Christmas" as they made off in a transit van laden with gold ingots.
Most of the loot was melted down and never recovered, despite a number of convictions over the crime.
British detectives believe the money still swills around criminal networks through property investments and shadowy overseas holdings.
Mossack Fonesca, the law firm at the centre of a massive online "Panama Papers" leak, may have helped shield the cash from British police investigators, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Sixteen months after the robbery, Mossack Fonseca set up a shell company registered in Panama called Feberion Inc - on behalf of a London-based money launderer Gordon Parry - according to the ICIJ.
Parry was jailed in 1992 over his role in handling the bullion stolen in the heist.
One of the law firm's founders, Mr Jurgen Mossack, was named as "nominee" director at Feberion, the ICIJ said citing an internal company memo it has obtained.
The memo, written by Mr Mossack and dating from 1986, said he was aware that Feberion was "apparently involved in management of money from the famous theft from Brink's-Mat in London", the ICIJ report says.
"The company itself has not been used illegally, but it could be that the company invested money through bank accounts and properties that was illegitimately sourced," the memo was quoted as saying.
The law firm denied the allegation, the ICIJ said in its report, adding the company said Jurgen Mossack had no dealings with Parry.
But the ICIJ leaks show the company only ended its relationship with Feberion in 1995.
The Panama Papers have whipped a storm of controversy over offshore wealth, ensnaring political leaders, sports figures and underworld members across the globe in a snowballing scandal.