Law firm at centre of 'Panama Papers' scandal says leak is a "crime"

The leak of millions of documents show financial dealings of prominent politicians and celebrities

leak, finances, business, the panama papers, rich, famous, powerful

A security guard sit outside the the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama City. Image: Arnulfo Franco / AP/Press Association Images

The release of the Panama Papers - detailing the offshore financial structures of wealthy clients, including prominent politicians and celebrities - is a crime, according to the law firm at the centre of the scandal.

Millions of documents leaked to a number of media organisations across Europe apparently show the ways the rich and famous can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes.

It is reported that journalists from more than 80 countries have been reviewing 11.5 million files leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm.

Ramon Fonseca, one of the founders of the Panamanian firm, told AFP the data breach is a "crime" and an "attack" on Panama.

He said: "This is a crime, a felony. Privacy is a fundamental human right that is being eroded more and more in the modern world.

"Each person has a right to privacy, whether they are a king or a beggar."

Mr Fonseca said as yet there is no suspect in what he described as a "limited hack".

He added that Mossack Fonseca has never been "convicted or accused of any wrongdoing" in the past.

Here at home, The Irish Times is reporting that the leaked papers show a company with an address in Drumcondra in Dublin is linked with arms deals in India, the Philippines and elsewhere.

The paper's Public Affairs Editor Colm Keena told Newstalk Breakfast that "people there say this is a very small part of their business, and most of this is historical".

He also explained how "these sort of activities are legal... However, one of the big attractions of offshore is that it provides massive amounts of secrecy... it might be legal but embarrassing":

Reacting to the leak, Oxfam Ireland's Chief Executive Jim Clarken said that the most vulnerable people are still footing the bill for the wealthy.

He says "the most vulnerable people here in societies here in Ireland and elsewhere are the ones that are denied the access to services because governments can't pay for them":

World leaders and politicians

According to The Guardian, one of the media organisations receiving the leaked documents - the so-called 'Panama Papers' - reveal:

- A key member of FIFA's powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be spearheading reform at world football's scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and corruption.

- Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

- Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt's former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

- Six members of the UK's House of Lords, three former Conservative MPs and dozens of donors to UK political parties have had offshore assets.

- The families of at least eight current and former members of China's supreme ruling body, the politburo, have been found to have hidden wealth offshore.

- Twenty-three individuals who have had sanctions imposed on them for supporting the regimes in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, Iran and Syria have been clients of Panama-based Mossack Fonseca. Their companies were harboured by the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other jurisdictions.

One leaked memo from a partner of Mossack Fonseca said: "Ninety-five per cent of our work coincidentally consists in selling vehicles to avoid taxes."

The company has denied any wrongdoing. It says it has acted beyond reproach for 40 years and that it has had robust due diligence procedures.

The document leak comes from the records of the firm, which was founded in 1977.

The information is near live, with the most recent records dating from December 2015.

Around 370 reporters from 100 media organisations have spent a year analysing and verifying the documents.

Campaign group Global Witness said: "This investigation shows how secretly-owned companies, many of them based in the UK's tax havens, can act as getaway cars for terrorists, dictators, money launderers and tax evaders all over the world. 

"The time has clearly come to take away the keys, by requiring the collection and publication of information on who really owns and controls these companies. 

"This would make it much harder to launder dirty money and leave the rest of us safer as a result," it adds.