Panama Papers’ Leak Provokes Global Calls for Investigation

  • Saraki : I’ve fully complied with the law

Joseph Ushigiale in Lagos and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja with agency reports

The latest leak of secret transactions in documents now christened the ‘Panama Papers’ has provoked governments across the world to order investigations that could unravel possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful, Reuters has reported.

Reuters monday reported a leak of four decades of documents from a Panamanian law firm that specialised in setting up offshore companies even though some of those named in the leaked report have denied any wrongdoing.

The “Panama papers” revealed financial arrangements of global politicians and public figures, including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.

The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki’s family was also reportedly named in the leak, according to an online news medium, the Premium Times, which claimed that the expose might worsen the Senate President’s battles at the Code of Conduct Tribunal where he is facing a 13-count charge of alleged concealment of assets.

But Saraki reacted swiftly last night and said he had fully complied with the provisions of the law on declaration of assets by public officers.

He said the claim contained in the Panama-based offshore provider, Mossack Fonseca, and shared by the International Consortium of Investigation Journalists (ICIJ) that he failed to declare assets belonging to his wife, Toyin, in secret offshore territories, was false.

Saraki said he had in his different asset declarations included properties owned individually by himself and his wife.

“The property in question forms part of Dr Saraki’s wife’s family asset. It is public knowledge that Mrs. Saraki comes from a family of independent means and wealth with numerous and varied assets acquired over decades in family estates and investments,” he said in a statement by his media office.

He explained: “Furthermore, the law only requires a public officer to declare both his own assets and those held by his spouse and his children under 18 years of age. The law does not require a public officer to declare assets held by the spouse’s family.

“It is not expected by the law that a public officer should declare such assets held in the spouse’s family estate. Indeed, the Code of Conduct form does not make provision for declaration of spouse’s family assets.”
While holding money in offshore companies is not illegal, journalists who received the leaked documents said they could provide evidence of funds hidden for tax evasion, money laundering, sanctions busting, drug deals or other crimes.

The law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which says it has set up more than 240,000 offshore companies for clients around the globe, denied any wrongdoing and called itself the victim of a campaign against privacy.

The Kremlin said the documents contained “nothing concrete and nothing new” while a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said his late father’s reported links to an offshore company were a “private matter”.
Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson could not immediately be reached for comment on the naming of his wife in connection with a secretive company in an offshore haven, which brought opposition calls for him to resign.
Pakistan denied any wrongdoing by the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his daughter and son were linked to offshore companies. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko did not comment on his reported offshore links.
Australia, Austria, France, Sweden and the Netherlands were among countries which said they had begun investigating the allegations, based on more than 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca.

Banks came under the spotlight for allegedly helping clients hide their funds offshore.
The documents, covering a period from 1977 until last December, were leaked to more than 100 news organisations around the world, cooperating with the ICIJ, a Washington, D.C.-based network.

The head of Mossack Fonseca, Ramon Fonseca, has denied any wrongdoing but said his firm had suffered a successful but “limited” hack on its database. He described the hack and leak as “an international campaign against privacy”.
“I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents,” ICIJ director Gerard Ryle said.

The documents showed a network of unconfirmed secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion lend to associates of Putin, including concert cellist Sergei Roldugin, a childhood friend of the president, but Putin’s spokesman dismissed the reports, saying they aimed to discredit him ahead of upcoming elections.

“This Putinophobia abroad has reached such a point that it is in fact taboo to say something good about Russia, or about any actions by Russia or any Russian achievements. But it’s a must to say bad things, a lot of bad things, and when there’s nothing to say, it must be concocted,” he said.

The British government asked for a copy of the leaked data, which could be embarrassing for Prime Minister Cameron, who has spoken out against tax evasion and tax avoidance.