Prosecutors in Germany have issued international arrest warrants for the cofounders of a Panama-based law firm behind the offshore tax scam that was exposed by the so-called Panama Papers leak.
German-born Jürgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca are being sought by Cologne prosecutors on charges of accessory to tax evasion and forming a criminal organization, German public broadcasters NDR and WDR, as well as national newspaper the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported on Tuesday.
Read more: Panama Papers: Two Germans charged in US with tax fraud
Cologne prosecutors confirmed that they had issued international arrest warrants for two people but declined to provide further information.
The 2016 Panama Papers leak included a collection of 11 million secret financial documents taken from law firm Mossack Fonscesca.
The documents showed how some of the world’s richest people hid their money in shell corporations — some of which were used for illegal purposes.
The documents leak — initially to the SZ and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – had wide-reaching repercussions. Several country leaders stepped down following the revelations and others came under close scrutiny.
U2 frontman and activist Bono was one of the highest-profile players named in the papers. In an elaborate web of financial transactions, Bono invested in a Maltese company called Nude Estates that was involved in a shady deal over a Lithuanian shopping mall. Malta is famous for its liberal tax policies. A spokesman for the singer denied any wrongdoing.
President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was listed in the papers for his interests in the Russian gas company Sibur. Ross has now been accused of failing to disclose his Russian connections to Congress during his confirmation hearing, though Ross has argued that as the company is not one facing US sanctions, he was not obliged to disclose them.
Queen Elizabeth II is provided an income by her private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster. According to the Paradise Papers, the duchy invested 10 million pounds ($13 million) in offshore accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. The estate has said that the investments are legal.
Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton reportedly avoided taxes on his private jet through an elaborate tax avoidance scheme, according go the Paradise Papers. The leaked documents show that Hamilton received a £3.3 million tax refund in 2013 after his plane was imported to the Isle of Man, a low tax British dependency located off the western coast of England.
Gerhard Schröder, leader of Germany from 1998 to 2005, was named for his management role at the Russian-British energy firm TNK-BP in 2009. The company was registered in the tax haven British Virgin Islands. In 2013, TNK-BP was bought by Russian energy giant Rosneft — where Schröder is now the independent director of the board.
According to the papers, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is listed as the director of two offshore companies in Barbados. He previously claimed to have severed ties with them in 2000 when he became minister of finance.
Not all of the revelations in the Paradise Papers necessarily detail illegal activity. But they do shed light on some of the strange investments and luxurious possessions of the world’s elite, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s yacht. Besides Microsoft, other US companies like Apple, McDonald’s, Facebook and Walmart were found to have ties to Appleby.
One of the odd investments listed in the Paradise Papers is singer Madonna’s stake in a medical supply firm. Actress Keira Knightley was also found to have stock in a Jersey-based real-estate firm.
US federal prosecutors have also alleged that law firm Mossack Fonseca conspired to circumvent US law to maintain the wealth of its clients and conceal tax dollars owed to the Internal Revenue Service.
However, Fonseca maintained the firm, which closed in 2018, had no control over how its clients may have used offshore vehicles created for them.
Both Mossack and Fonseca have Panamanian citizenship, NDR reported. Panama does not extradite its own citizens so it is unclear whether either will ever be brought to Germany for trial.
Read more: Deutsche Bank searched for second day in money-laundering probe
The former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were forced to step down from their posts.
The leaders of Argentina and Ukraine, Chinese politicians and Russian President Vladimir Putin also came under fire.
Thousands of preliminary proceedings were initiated worldwide and the equivalent of more than €2 billion ($2.36 billion) in fines and back payments were collected.
The SZ, NDR and WDR reported that Germany recovered €140 million in fines and tax arrears.
Read more: Panama Papers lead to fines and tax clawbacks in Germany
kmm/jlw (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)