Organized crime prosecutors search Panama Papers firm office

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Organized crime prosecutors on Tuesday searched the offices of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, which has found itself in the eye of an international storm over tax havens it set up for wealthy international clients.

A half dozen police officers set up a perimeter around the offices while prosecutors worked inside. Shortly after news reports based on a trove of documents from the firm began emerging more than a week ago, Panama's government had said it would investigate.

The attorney general's office said in a statement that the investigators were reviewing documents, but gave no other details.

Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing, saying it only set up offshore financial accounts and anonymous shell companies for clients and was not involved in how those accounts were used.

The search came a day after intellectual property prosecutors visited Mossack Fonseca to follow up on its allegations that a computer hack led to the leak of millions of documents about tax havens the firm set up.

The firm filed a complaint charging the security breach shortly before the first media reports working with the documents offered details on how politicians, celebrities and companies around the globe were hiding assets in offshore accounts and shell companies.

"Finally the real criminals are being investigated," firm co-founder Ramon Fonseca said in a message to The Associated Press on Monday.

Fonseca has maintained that the only crime which can be taken from the leak was the computer hack itself. He has said he suspects the hack originated outside Panama, possibly in Europe, but has not given any details.

The law firm is one of the most important in the world for creating overseas front companies.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has defended the country's financial sector, which is considered of strategic importance for the economy. But Varela has also promised the international community that he is willing to make reforms to make the sector more transparent.

On Tuesday, Varela met with legal, banking and business professional associations. Afterward, he asked France to reconsider its decision to place Panama on a list of uncooperative countries in financial information.

The government announced that Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, would be one member of an international panel formed to review Panama's legal and financial practices and recommend improvements.