A new data leak sheds light on how the now-defunct Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca and its clients dealt with having their financial secrets revealed in the weeks and months after the Panama Papers were published.
The data gives insight into the deluge of requests from anti-money laundering investigators and tax authorities following the April 2016, 2.6TB Panama Papers leak from Mossack Fonseca.
These new Mossack Fonseca documents, which include e-mails, passport copies and criminal case files, date from early 2016 through the end of 2017, a few months before the firm collapsed.
Mossack Fonseca was represented locally by Nexia BT’s managing partner Brian Tonna. Mr Tonna has said his shares in Mossack Fonseca Malta were held in a fiduciary capacity.
They were told to find new registered addresses for the companies opened by Mossack Fonseca Malta at Nexia BT’s San Ġwann offices
German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung has obtained a further 443GB of data from the Panama law firm. The new leak was shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which organised a global collaboration to pore over the new files.
The Times of Malta was part of the collaboration.
After the April 2016 Panama Papers revelations, Mossack Fonseca Malta told its customers that it would no longer be offering its services.
They were told to find new registered addresses for the companies opened by Mossack Fonseca Malta at Nexia BT’s San Ġwann offices, leaked e-mails show.
Asked why Mossack Fonseca Malta was closed down after the Panama Papers leak, Mr Tonna invited The Times of Malta to ask Mossack Fonseca that question directly.
Nexia BT is the company that opened two secret Panama firms for the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi through Mossack Fonseca.
‘Politically naïve’ firm still OPM advisors
Despite criticism by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat about the “politically naïve and insensitive” advice Nexia BT gave to his two top officials, the local audit firm has continued to benefit from government contracts.
In 2017, it was given a €80,000 direct order to advise the Prime Minister’s office on all projects of “national importance”.
Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi have blamed Nexia BT for failing to register their New Zealand trusts with the local tax authorities, as required by the law.
Nexia BT was also responsible for opening up at least six Mossack Fonseca companies in the British Virgin Islands for local clients, including two companies owned by Mr Tonna himself.
Mr Tonna instructed Mossack Fonseca to dissolve his two companies after the Panama Papers leak revealed his ownership. He held over €400,000 in these two shell companies.
Nexia BT resigns as agent for Chinese power station consultant
Nexia BT’s Karl Cini informed Mossack Fonseca that they should contact Mr Cheng and Mr Sladden directly, as they were no longer acting as agents for the two companies.
Investigators from Malta Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) found that Mr Cheng's company was expecting to receive €1 million in 2015 via a Pilatus Bank account.
Mr Cheng was one of the negotiators in the €320 million part-sale of Enemalta to the State-owned Chinese energy company Shanghai Electric.
Anti-money laundering investigators in the British Virgin Islands sent a blanket request to Mossack Fonseca for information about all companies opened by Nexia BT in the jurisdiction.
This included a request for information about Colson, the BVI company owned by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff for his “investments”.
What became of Mossack Fonseca?
In February 2017, Panama’s attorney general, Kenia Porcell, alleged that Mossack Fonseca companies had been used to make and receive bribes across Latin America in connection with the Lava Jato or “car wash” scandal.
The probe, which is ongoing, centres on allegations that dozens of politicians and executives at Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, received billions of dollars in bribes from contractors who were awarded generous contracts.
Attorney General Porcell called Mossack Fonseca “a criminal organisation that is dedicated to hiding money assets from suspicious origins.”
She ordered the firm’s founders Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca arrested on money laundering charges. The men, who denied wrongdoing, spent several months in jail before making bail.
Mr Mossack and Mr Fonseca were released in April 2017. About a year later, the law firm bearing their names closed for good.
Mossack remains under investigation by prosecutors in Cologne, Germany, as an accessory to tax evasion, according to a statement provided to Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Panama’s attorney general’s office told Süddeutsche Zeitung that five criminal investigations related to Mossack Fonseca are ongoing.
Mossack and Fonseca did not respond to specific questions from ICIJ or its partners. In June, the lawyers issued a press release that said the law firm, its employees and its founders were “never involved in unlawful acts.”
Read more in Thursday’s edition of Times of Malta.