Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Articles on ICIJ's Panama Papers and Ramifications (4/13/16)

Introduction:  The following Wikipedia entries may offer updated information from time to time:
  • Wikipedia entry on Panama Papers, here.
  • Wikipedia list of people named in Panama Papers, here.
In addition, this searchable list from the Sunday Times might be worth consulting from time to time.  Josh Boswell, Tom Wills, Aendrew Rininsland, Panama papers: the names: Search our database of 37,000 names linked to Mossack Fonseca companies in the tax haven of Panama (Sunday Times 4/10/16), here.  The linked page offers at the bottom a downloadable zip file with the data, here, which includes a csv file which is apparently 102.54 MB in size (presumably this could be imported into an MS Excel file, although I have not yet done that) and a "README.TXT" file to explain certain matters about the data.  Apparently this file lists the companies and directors, shareholders, and legal agents for the companies.  

Panama papers: Mossack Fonseca headquarters raided (4/13/16), here.
Police carried out Tuesday's raid along with officials from an organised crime unit. Officers set up a perimeter around the headquarters while prosecutors entered the offices to search for documents. 
Afterwards, the attorney general's office said the aim had been "to obtain documentation linked to the information published in news articles that establish the use of the firm in illicit activities". 
The statement added that searches would also take place at subsidiaries of the firm.
Elida Moreno, Panama raids offices of Mossack Fonseca law firm (Reuters 4/13/16), here.
The national police, in an earlier statement, said they were searching for documentation that "would establish the possible use of the firm for illicit activities." The firm has been accused of tax evasion and fraud.
Peter J. Henning, Panama Papers Show How Lawyers Can Turn a Blind Eye (NYT DealBook), here.
Peter Hemmings is a frequent writer on white collar crime.
During the savings-and loan-crisis in the early 1990s, the question “Where were the lawyers?” was asked about the wrongdoing taking place at numerous banks. 
The confidential documents known as the Panama Papers, which show how lawyers helped set up offshore bank accounts and shell companies, provides one possible answer: The lawyers have always been right in the middle of it. 
This is not the only recent example of lawyers acting as willing participants in trying to help clients, while seemingly turning a blind eye to possible violations of the law. A report issued by the nonprofit organization Global Witness, featured on the “60 Minutes” news program in January, included undercover videos of lawyers in New York who appeared quite eager to advise the mysterious representative of an African minister about how to move funds into the United States to buy assets while keeping his ownership anonymous. 
Rather than seeking to keep clients from violating the law, it appears that some lawyers are willing to go right up to the line of legality in their representation. By keeping themselves ignorant about what may be going on, these lawyers have been able to maintain the facade that they are not involved in potentially illegal activities, even though they are often the prime enablers of misconduct. 
Has the legal profession lost its moral compass?
 The article concludes:
It is no surprise that lawyers are at the center of the debate about how to deal with the use of shell companies and secret accounts to hide assets because lawyers are frequently involved in structuring the entities. Despite the elevated rhetoric about the role of lawyers in society, the legal ethics rules do little to restrict how lawyers can represent clients who flirt with the edges of the law. 
Limiting the tools for helping clients engage in misconduct would make it harder for lawyers to claim they are only serving the wishes of those clients.

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