Panama Papers revelations continue to simmer

The law firm at the centre of a massive data leak, detailing how money was funnelled to shell companies in tax havens, politicians and banks implicated in the revelations battled Tuesday to stave off the ramifications.

"These reports rely on supposition and stereotypes, and play on the public's lack of familiarity with the work of firms like ours," Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca said late Monday.

In Iceland, Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson faces a looming no-confidence vote in parliament, and has been urged to resign, following a claim that he and his wife secretly channelled funds to an offshore tax haven in the Caribbean.

Speaking on Icelandic radio Tuesday, Gunnlaugsson said the ruling centre-right coalition in office since 2013 was holding.

"It is only hanging by a thread if the parties don't want to work together," he said.

Gunnlaugsson, who leads the centrist Progressive Party, was due Tuesday to meet with Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, head of the Independence Party, to discuss the crisis.

Both Benediktsson and President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson cut short visits to the United States.

Thousands of people assembled outside parliament late Monday in a protest reminiscent of the popular protests that early 2009 contributed to the resignation of a previous government in the wake of the global financial crisis.

A new protest was planned late Tuesday.

Accusations have also been levelled at members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle among many other public figures.

In a four-page document, law firm Mossack Fonseca reiterated that it had "never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing," following the leak of millions of documents to the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The publication of the data also reignited the debate over how the world's wealthy make use of tax-avoidance schemes not available to most of the world's population. The firm set up offshore companies for clients for "a variety of legitimate reasons, including conducting cross-border mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, estate planning, personal safety, and restructurings and pooling of investment capital from investors residing in different jurisdictions who want a neutral legal and tax regime that does not benefit or disadvantage any one investor," Mossack Fonseca said. "We are legally and practically limited in our ability to regulate the use of companies we incorporate or to which we provide other services ... We regret any misuse of companies that we incorporate," the statement added. China Tuesday blocked access to the Panama papers on the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which was one of the agencies compiling the material. Beijing also issued censorship orders to remove all references to the scandal from local media posts, and block searches for Panama or the names of Chinese nationals in the report, according to a report by Hong Kong-based China Digital Times. The brother-in-law of Chinese President Xi Jinping and family members of at least eight current and former members of the politburo standing committee were named as having set up offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca.

The so-called Panama Papers, which disclosed the activities of 214,000 purported shell companies, were obtained by Sueddeutsche, which has said the employee who leaked the documents was risking his life.

The chief executive of Nordic banking group Nordea, Casper von Koskull, told Swedish television late Monday it would terminate all cooperation with the Panama-based firm.

Nordea did not condone tax evasion, he said.

Leaked documents published in Nordic media suggested Nordea International Private Banking in Luxembourg had helped wealthy customers set up companies in tax havens.

Last update: Tue, 05/04/2016 - 12:44
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