In what is being claimed at the second “leak” of Panama Papers since 2016, nearly 1.2 million new documents detail the offshore financial links of an array of individuals and organisations. The fresh document leak from law firm Mossack Fonseca names a number of global elites including football superstar Lionel Messi, Argentina President Mauricio Macri and his family, and a former senior Kuwaiti official who was convicted of looting his country’s social security system, besides several Indian personalities.
The details were leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung based in Munich, which it shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
According to the ICIJ, the 1.2 million documents date from a few months before April 2016, when the consortium and more than 100 media partners including The Indian Express published the initial Panama Papers stories, and continue through December 2017.
Lionel Messi, the Argentine star who plays club football for Barcelona, and his father Jorge Horacio Messi were already under investigation in Spain on charges of using offshore companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes. The Panama Papers revealed they owned yet another offshore company, Mega Star Enterprises, based in Panama.
When asked about the company, says the ICIJ, the Messis had said in April 2016 Mega Star was “totally inactive”, adding that internal emails from the newly-leaked Mossack Fonseca records, however, put a question mark on that claim.
The “Uruguay office tells me that the client is using the company,” an ICIJ report quotes a law firm employee as having written in May 2016. According to the documents, Mossack Fonseca resigned as the registered agent for Mega Star Enterprises in July 2016 — the same month a Spanish court convicted the Messis of tax fraud.
Lionel Messi faced a 21-month suspended sentence and was fined $2.2 million.
A lawyer for Messi told Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, also an ICIJ partner, that Mega Star Enterprises was an old issue and was part of the former corporate scheme that had already been adjudicated. “The company is not being activity used,” the ICIJ quoted the lawyer as saying.
Messi, the caption of Argentina football team, is currently in Russia playing the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
About Argentine president Mauricio Macri, the ICIJ report says emails between Mossack Fonseca’s head office in Panama and its Uruguay branch in September and October 2016 show employees discussing a plan to backdate documents so that it could conceal the fact that the firm did not know a company it had set up in the Bahamas, Fleg Trading Co., was controlled by Macri’s family.
According to the original Panama Papers investigation report, Macri and other family members were directors of Fleg Trading. Macri’s father was the owner.
The ICIJ says Mossack Fonseca employees discussed having Macri’s accountant produce a handwritten document in 2016, but dated years earlier. This would have confirmed the company’s owner, according to the emails. “The accountant dismissed the idea as ‘very risky’ since the letter ‘could be refuted easily by an expert calligrapher,’ who would pick up that the document was written more recently than the purported earlier date, according to Mossack Fonseca’s internal emails,” the consortium says in its report posted on its website, adding: “The client did not want to ‘gamble’, the emails said, ‘since there is the President of Argentina and his family involved’.”
The new files also show Mossack Fonseca didn’t know of Macri’s family connections to another shell company BF Corporation. The company was owned by Macri’s brothers, Mariano and Gianfranco, according to Argentine press reports. The transactions apparently occurred days before the first round voting in the country in October 2015. Mauricio Macri was elected the following month.