In recent weeks, the papers’ revelations about Mossack Fonseca’s international clientele have shaken the financial world. The Times’s examination of the files found that Mossack Fonseca also had at least 2,400 United States-based clients over the past decade, and set up at least 2,800 companies on their behalf in the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the Seychelles and other jurisdictions that specialize in helping hide wealth.
Many of these transactions were legal; there are legitimate reasons to create offshore accounts, particularly when setting up a business overseas or buying real estate in a foreign country.
But the documents — confidential emails, copies of passports, ledgers of bank transactions and even the various code names used to refer to clients — show that the firm did much more than simply create offshore shell companies and accounts. For many of its American clients, Mossack Fonseca offered a how-to guide of sorts on skirting or evading United States tax and financial disclosure laws.
These included locating an individual from a “tax-convenient” jurisdiction to be the straw man owner of an offshore account, concealing the true American owner, or encouraging one client it knew was a United States resident to use his foreign passports to open accounts offshore, again to avoid scrutiny from regulators, the documents show.
If the compliance department at one foreign bank contacted by Mossack Fonseca on behalf of its clients started to ask too many questions about who owned the account, the firm simply turned to other, less inquisitive banks.