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The Panama Papers: Money Laundering and the World's Elite

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 04, 2016 3:57 PM

Panic hit in the upper crust over the weekend after 11 million documents were leaked from the secretive Panama law firm of Mossack Fonseca. The documents revealed just how some of the world's most influential people launder their assets away from prying governmental eyes.

World governments, for their part, have reacted with predictable urgency. Will this revelation mark the beginning of the end of legal tax-loopholes? Unlikely.

The Rich and the Powerful

The leaked papers (dubbed "The Panana Papers") included the names of very well placed persons including 12 heads of state and approximately 60 persons somehow linked to heads of state. The story continues to develop, but the news seems to have been first reported by Haaretz and other papers. Some of the more recognizable names include

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • Iceland Prime Minister, Sigmunder David Gunnlaugsson
  • UK Prime Minister David Cameron's Father, Ian Cameron
  • Chinese President Xi JinPing's brother-in-law
  • Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif

Mossack Fonseca: "Never Been Accused of Criminal Wrongdoing"

The accidentally leaked documents suggest strongly that the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca helped its rarified group of clients launder money, dodge taxes, create shell companies to hide assets, and so forth. The company released the following statement to the public: "For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations. Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing."

Reactions

David Cameron did not need additional reasons to be disliked. By this morning, 16,000 persons in Iceland had signed a petition demanding Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson's resignation, and the numbers continue to climb. Mr. Gunnlaugsson has dismissed any chance of his doing so.

Governments did not waste any time springing into action, though it isn't clear if this is driven by a desire to uphold laws, or to implement damage control. Australia's tax office has launched an investigation into 800 persons named in the papers. No doubt, similar investigations in other countries will be launched in order to appease the public.

Changes: Don't Bet on It

It shouldn't be any surprise that a law firm would be implicated in helping wealthy clients disguise their assets in order to dodge taxes -- wealthy clients are the kinds of clients that law firms want. In reality, it would be jejune to believe that tax-avoidance and tax-evasion are really all that dissimilar. The wedge between these two practices is only as strong as any person's ability to rationalize.

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