World

Panama Papers put world leaders, celebrities on the defensive

World leaders and international celebrities are on the defensive after leaked documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca showed how the world's rich and powerful are able to avoid taxes by stashing their wealth offshore.

British PM, Ukrainian president and Formula One driver deny wrongdoing associated with offshore accounts

People demonstrate against Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson in Reykjavik, Iceland on Monday after the Panama Papers leak stoked anger over his wife owning a tax haven-based company with large claims on the country's collapsed banks. (Stigtryggur Johannsson/Reuters)

World leaders and international celebrities are on the defensive after leaked documents from a Panama-based law firm showed how the world's rich and powerful are able to avoid taxes by stashing their wealth offshore.

The documents, dating as far back as 1977, come from the little-known but highly influential law firm Mossack Fonseca, which has 500 staff working in 40-plus countries. The firm is one of the world's top creators of shell companies — corporate structures that can be used to hide ownership of assets.

German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung obtained the files from a source and shared them with global media partners, including CBC News, through the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Police raid UEFA office

Swiss police have raided the offices of UEFA, the European soccer governing body, over evidence of a Champions League television rights contract with an offshore marketing agency implicated in the FIFA bribery scandal.

The contract — which sold TV rights in Ecuador to the Cross Trading agency owned by two Argentine executives indicted by American federal prosecutors — was reportedly signed by current FIFA president Gianni Infantino in 2006 when he was UEFA legal director.

Infantino said he was "dismayed that his integrity was being doubted" by media reports, which said the contract he signed several years ago as a UEFA official sold broadcast rights at a low price to a company that then sold them for a far higher price.

UEFA says it "is providing the Federal Police with all relevant documents in our possession and will co-operate fully."

Iceland seeks new PM

Iceland suffered further political fallout from the documents, with the government hoping to avoid early elections by trying to pick a prime minister to replace Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson.

He stepped down after the documents showed his wife owned an offshore company that held millions of dollars' worth of debt from failed Icelandic banks.

Iceland is looking to pick a replacement for Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who stepped down after the Panama Papers revealed his links to an offshore company that held debt from failed Icelandic banks. (Bertil Enevag Ericson/Reuters)

Gunnlaugsson has said his wife's assets were taxed in Iceland, but the opposition has accused him of a conflict of interest because his government was negotiating deals with claimants on the banks. It was not clear whether Gunnlaugsson's wife had received any payment from the banks.

Icelanders, already angry with the financial and political elite after the 2008 banking crisis wrecked the country's economy, were expected return to the streets on Wednesday. Protesters pelted parliament with yogurt and eggs earlier this week.

'No offshore funds' benefit British PM 

British Prime Minister David Cameron also faced another day of questions about his finances, because his late father was among the tens of thousands of people named in the documents from Mossack Fonseca.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under pressure over family tax affairs since the Panama Papers named his late father as a client of controversial law firm Mossack Fonseca. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

After having at first described it as a private matter, Cameron's office said on Tuesday that he and his family did not benefit from any such funds at present. Cameron also said he did not own any shares or have any offshore funds.

But his failure to say whether he or his family would benefit in the future only intensified media speculation, with the story splashed across many newspaper front pages on Wednesday.

"There are no offshore funds or trusts which the prime minister, Mrs. Cameron or their children will benefit from in future," a spokesman for Cameron said on Wednesday.

Poroshenko says he's not avoiding taxes

Among those named in the documents are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the leaders of China, Britain and Pakistan, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Poroshenko said he set up an offshore trust to separate his business and political interests after he became president and the arrangements were carried out with full transparency.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko says an offshore holding company set up for his candy business is not an attempt to avoid taxes. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

He said he was not trying to minimize tax payments.

"There does not need to be an investigation," Poroshenko told reporters in Tokyo, when asked about the planned investigation by Ukraine's fiscal services.

F1 driver, Bollywood star deny wrongdoing 

 A lawyer for Nico Rosberg says the Formula One driver used an offshore company solely for liability reasons and to enable him to operate internationally. 

German public broadcaster NDR has reported that Mossack Fonseca manages a company called Ambitious Group Ltd. which has a contract with Mercedes for Rosberg's "driver services." 

Formula One driver Nico Rosberg says he uses an offshore account solely for liability reasons. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

Rosberg's German lawyer Christian Schertz says British Virgin Islands-registered Ambitious Group wasn't used for tax avoidance. 

Meanwhile, India's top Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan has denied any connection to four shipping companies registered in tax havens. He was responding to a report published Monday by the Indian Express newspaper based on the Panama Papers.

Bachchan said he did not know any of the companies he was allegedly linked to and has never been a director for any of them.

Malta minister under fire

Malta's health and energy minister is facing calls for his resignation after he was named in a leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm.

Konrad Mizzi, who is also deputy leader of the governing Labour Party, has acknowledged owning a company in Panama which is held by a trust in New Zealand.

However, Mizzi insists that the leaked documents make no reference to him holding any funds in Panama. He said he has commissioned an independent tax audit to prove that he's done nothing wrong, and that the company in Panama "will be closed soon after the tax investigation is concluded."

The opposition Nationalist Party is holding a protest to press for Mizzi's resignation on Sunday.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has stood by his minister, but said he will dismiss him if it emerges that what Mizzi is saying is untrue.

France's National Front threatens to sue

France's far-right National Front party is filing lawsuits for defamation against media who imply that it or leader Marine Le Pen — who plans to run in the 2017 presidential race — may be implicated in the Panama Papers scandal.

Party lawyer David Dassa-Le Deist issued a statement Wednesday saying defamation proceedings "have been started on this day."

France's far-right National Front is filing defamation suits in defence of its leader Marine Le Pen against media outlets looking to implicate her in the Panama Papers scandal. (Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters)

The statement did not name the media being targeted. However, it noted the daily Le Monde's article Tuesday looking into alleged offshore dealings by a longtime Le Pen acquaintance whose company provides publicity for electoral campaigns. The paper also examined potential but unproven offshore interests of Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, via a former employee.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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