April 4, 2016 – Mossack Fonseca & Co. had a problem in Vegas.
Legal papers filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas claimed that the Panama-based law firm had created 123 companies in Nevada that had been used by a crony of Argentina’s former president to steal millions of dollars from government contracts. A subpoena demanded that Mossack Fonseca turn over details about any money that had flowed through the Nevada companies.
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Mossack Fonesca didn’t want to provide this information. For a firm that specializes in setting up hard-to-trace offshore companies for clients around the world, confidentiality is a must.
The law firm tried to block the subpoena by denying that its Las Vegas operations, run by a company called M.F. Corporate Services (Nevada) Limited, were part of the Mossack Fonseca group.
The firm’s Panama-based co-founder, Jürgen Mossack, testified under oath that “MF Nevada and Mossack Fonseca do not have a parent-subsidiary relationship nor does Mossack Fonseca control the internal affairs or daily operations of MF Nevada’s business.”
But secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other media partners raise new doubts over that sworn testimony.
Not only do they show that the Nevada subsidiary was wholly owned by Mossack Fonseca but that, behind the scenes, the firm took steps to wipe potentially damaging records from phones and computers to keep details of their clients from the United States justice system.
One email from 2014, for instance, instructs that any link between Mossack Fonseca’s central computing system in Panama and the Nevada office “has to be obscure to the investigators.” Other emails report that IT operatives working via remote control from Panama “tried to clean the logs of the PC’s in the Nevada office” and planned to run a “remote session to eliminate the traces of direct access to our CIS” — the firm’s computer information system.
The documents even show that a firm employee traveled from Panama to Vegas to whisk paper documents out of the country. “When Andrés came to Nevada he cleaned up everything and brought all documents to Panama,” a Sept. 24, 2014 email said.
In comments to ICIJ, Mossack Fonseca “categorically” denied hiding or destroying documents that might be used in an ongoing investigation or litigation.
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