Panama Law Firm Reportedly Sues Journalist Consortium Over Data Leak

Tom Burroughes Group Editor May 13, 2016

Panama Law Firm Reportedly Sues Journalist Consortium Over Data Leak

The Panama-based law firm at the centre of the saga over leaked accounts has taken the legal gloves off against the Washington-based journalists' consortium, which has published a vast trove of data.

Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers affair, is reportedly suing a journalists’ group for leaking data it says is false, adding another twist to a saga that has caused a country’s prime minister to resign and sent shockwaves through the offshore world.

The law firm is filing suit against the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Just as this news was being reported, the ICIJ put a searchable database of more than 200,000 offshore companies onto its website. The Washington DC-based organisation first revealed that it had obtained the leaked, or stolen, data in April. 

The Panama Papers saga has seen the downfall of Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and, ironically, a senior Chilean figure in the global watchdog on dirty money, Transparency International. The papers also purportedly show that Australian premier Malcolm Turnbull had a British Virgin Islands-based firm that was created by Mossack Fonseca. UK prime minister David Cameron’s late father also had an account at one stage that was based out of Panama.

The affair has reignited debate on the proper distinction that should be drawn between legitimate client privacy and secrecy, as well as the issue of whether beneficial owners of trusts and other structures should be publicly disclosed.

The ICIJ’s database is drawn from the 11.5 million documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca.

According to a report by AFP, the French news service, the law firm urged the ICIJ to cease and desist prior to the leak online, but it moved ahead with the release.

“The Consortium has forced us to start aggressive legal action to protect ourselves from acts such as these, which, since they are crimes, must be taken to the proper bodies for due process,” the company said in a statement released earlier this week. This publication has contacted Mossack Fonseca seeking additional comment.

In recent years, banks such as Julius Baer, LGT, Credit Suisse and HSBC Private Bank have been hit by leaks/thefts of client data. In some cases, that data was subsequently bought by foreign governments hunting for alleged tax evaders. In the HSBC case, a former employee, Hervé Falciani, who reportedly took data in 2006-07, has been tried and sentenced in his absence by a Swiss court. 

As far as the ICIJ is concerned, its activities have involved leaks from jurisdictions including Luxembourg, Guernsey and Switzerland.

To view an editorial about the data leaks, and the issues they raise, see here.


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