Mossack Fonseca & Co. is a Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider, which is the world’s fourth biggest provider of offshore financial services. From its 1977 foundation until the April 2016 publication of the Panama Papers it remained mostly obscure, even though it sits at the heart of the global offshore industry, and acts for about 300,000 companies. More than half are registered in British tax havens – as well as in the UK. The firm received worldwide media attention in April 2016, when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published information about its clients' financial dealings in the Panama Papers articles, following the release of an enormous cache of its documents from between 1970 and 2015 leaked to the news media.
|Headquarters||Panama City, Panama|
|No. of employees||500+|
|Key people||Rubén Hernández, CEO|
|Founder||Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca|
History and practice areasEdit
It specializes in commercial law, trust services, investor advisory, and international business structures. It also offers intellectual property protection and maritime law services. An internal memorandum revealed in the 2016 Panama papers leak noted that 95% of the company's work consists of "selling vehicles to avoid taxes".
In 2013, the firm was described as one of seven that collectively represented more than half of the offshore companies incorporated in Panama. The firm also houses several Panama-incorporated companies within its offices. It is one of the largest firms in the corporate services industry. However, the founder claims that its volume represents only around 5% of the global financial services legal industry. According to The Economist, the firm has 5 to 10% of the global shell company market, and it has been described as "tight-lipped".
Offices and international practiceEdit
The firm has nine offices in China, several in Latin America, others in the United States and Europe, with two in Switzerland. Lawyers from the firm have been sent to foreign countries to promote business in Panama and Panamanian financial products.
The firm was consulted by the country of Niue when it sought to become an offshore financial center, and managed that business exclusively for the country through their Panama headquarters. However, American banks imposed embargoes on bank transfers to Niue in 2001, leading to a shutdown of the business in 2005. Accounts of the firm's clients were moved from Niue to American Samoa.
The firm has allegedly helped foreign citizens circumvent their local tax laws and sometimes even international sanctions. The firm's founder has argued that it simply helps its clients achieve privacy, and that it now complies with "know your customer" regulations.
Argentine money launderingEdit
In 2014, MF Corporate Services was subpoenaed by a hedge fund seeking to recover money from the Argentinian government.The fund alleged that MF had created shell companies to pass money from the government to Lázaro Báez, an ally of the Kirchner family. Jürgen Mossack testified under oath that M.F. Corporate Services (Nevada) Ltd. had no affiliation with the Panamanian Mossack Fonseca, but the Panama Papers show that it was in fact a wholly owned subsidiary and Mossack Fonseca tried to hide the relationship, ordering emails and other computer footprints deleted. Despite Mossack Fonseca's claim that it did not own MF Corporate Services, a Nevada judge ruled that the subpoena against Mossack Fonseca was valid. The firm was fighting an order that it turn over the details of 123 shell companies created by an associate of a former President of Argentina.
In January 2016, employees of the firm's Brazilian office were charged in relation to the ongoing Petrobras corruption scandal. In that case, a judge alleged that "Mossack Fonseca provided services for the opening of offshore societies, and at least four agents were involved in a scheme to launder money." The firm has responded that the Brazilian office is a "franchise" and not controlled by the main office in Panama. The firm's founder resigned from his advisory position to the Panamanian government to focus on the Brazilian allegations, and says the firm has been cleared.
"Panama Papers" leakEdit
On 3 April 2016, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) announced that 11.5 million confidential documents from the firm had been leaked to them. These documents, dubbed the "Panama Papers", reveal how clients hid billions of dollars in tax havens. Comprising documents dating from the 1970s to the present, the 2.6 terabytes of data was given to SZ in 2015 by an anonymous source. Because of the amount of data, SZ enlisted the help of the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The firm says that this coverage has "misrepresented" their work. In its full statement the company asserts that it conducts due diligence on potential clients, "routinely denying services" to those who are "compromised", and "routinely resigns from client engagements" when ongoing due diligence and/or updates to sanctions lists reveal problems. In addition, however, the company has said that responsibility for potential legal violations may lie with failures or lapses by other institutions given that:
approximately 90% of our clientele is comprised of professional clients, such as international financial institutions as well as trust companies and prominent law and accounting firms, who act as intermediaries and are regulated in the jurisdiction of their business. These clients are obliged to perform due diligence on their clients in accordance with the KYC and AML [ Know Your Customer and Anti-Money Laundering respectively ] regulations to which they are subject.
The company informed clients on 3 April 2016, that files had been obtained through a hack of the company's email server. Forbes has suggested that the firm's information security was poor, running old versions of key tools, and still other vulnerabilities have since been discovered.
Shortly after the leak, Panamanian, Peruvian, and Salvadorian police raided the local offices of Mossack Fonseca.
- The Legal 500 > Mossack Fonseca The Legal 500
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Our ... professionals specialize in trust services, wealth management, international business structures, and commercial law, among other areas.
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