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News > World

Panama Papers: Company 'Can't Identify 70 Percent Of Clients'

  • Mossack Fonseca couldn't name the owners of 75 percent of the companies in Panama, the ICIJ reports.

    Mossack Fonseca couldn't name the owners of 75 percent of the companies in Panama, the ICIJ reports. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 June 2018

"THE CLIENT HAS DISAPPEARED! I CAN'T FIND HIM ANYMORE!!!!!!" one Mossack Fonseca employee wrote following the Panama Papers leak.

Recent developments in the Panama Papers investigation reveal that the main company behind the international tax scandal was unable to identify over 70 percent of its clients.

A Year After Panama Papers, Little Done Against Tax Havens

According to the 1.2 million documents dated before the release of the original Panama Papers in April 2016, the Mossack Fonseca couldn't name the owners of 75 percent of the companies in Panama or 72 percent of the 28,500 active accounts in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

After a raid of the Mossack Fonseca's Panama offices in 2016, 150 inquiries, investigations and audits were launched in 79 countries. However, the poor record-keeping and unprofessional practices weren't made public until the recent release of inter-employee and client correspondence by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) per the Suddeutsche Zeitung company.

In one instance, an employee who died in 2005 apparently continued to attend meetings and sign documents from beyond the grave, while details of dozens of clients and account information were misplaced or deleted in the chaos which ensued after the Panama Papers leak.

Another Mossack employee wrote: "We all know that we are under severe scrutiny by the authorities, and to present incomplete information to the FIA (the BVI financial intelligence agency) is bad.

"But it is worse when we are directly involved with the management of the company and we ought to know and have the information and details on the UBO (Ultimate Beneficial Owner), but that information is lacking. It is embarrassing."

In one panicked email, a Swiss manager wrote: "THE CLIENT HAS DISAPPEARED! I CAN'T FIND HIM ANYMORE!!!!!!," according to a BBC report.

One employee of a European financial firm said: "I demand an explanation why your firm is so impossible to work with! In any properly regulated jurisdiction, a firm like yours would have been shut by the regulator!!!"

Following the leak, the United Kingdom, the British Virgin Islands and other British territories caved to international pressure and established a registry of the various owners of the overseas accounts. However, this private registry – accessible only by state officials – was completely dependent on the information provided by companies such as Mossack Fonseca.

Former chair of the UK parliamentary public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge MP, said: "This is simply further proof, if any were needed, why we absolutely must have public registers of beneficial owners if we are to stamp out money laundering, tax avoidance, tax evasion and other crimes."

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