U.S. indicts 4 tied to money laundering at 'Panama Papers' firm

U.S. indicts 4 tied to money laundering at 'Panama Papers' firm

USA prosecutors have charged four people with ties to the law firm at the centre of the massive leak of offshore financial data known as the "Panama Papers".

Justice officials said the four were involved in a "decades-long criminal scheme perpetrated by Mossack Fonseca".

Three of the four people have already been arrested, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Dirk Brauer, an employee of an asset management company closely tied to the firm, was arrested in Paris on 15 November.

Joachim von der Goltz, who is accused of hiding his ownership of shell companies he used to secret away tens of millions of dollars from US tax authorities, was arrested in London on December 3.

Prosecutors said the fourth defendant, Ramses Owens, was a lawyer at Mossack Fonseca & Co and remains at large.

The 4 were affiliated with Mossack Fonseca, the law firm that helped thousands of clients around the world move money offshore to protect it from taxes.

Wire fraud can carry a jail term of 20 years.

The "Panama Papers", which consist of millions of documents from Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to the media in April 2016.

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The information was obtained by German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

One former client, now dead, helped authorities in their investigation by recording calls with Owens and introducing him to an undercover agent, the indictment reveals.

In an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors said that from 2000 to 2017, Owens and Brauer conspired to help clients of Mossack Fonseca hide assets, investments and income from United States tax authorities, using sham foundations and shell companies formed under the law of countries including Panama, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands.

Owens and Brauer also allegedly showed their clients how to use debit cards and fake purchases to repatriate funds to the USA without revealing the secret accounts.

Gaffey is accused of assisting Von Der Goltz's scheme and advising another American taxpayer, who is identified in Tuesday's filings only as "Client 1".

Geoffrey S. Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of NY, said Tuesday that the defendants "went to extraordinary lengths to circumvent US tax laws in order to maintain their wealth and the wealth of their clients".

Von Der Goltz, according to the indictment, was helped in that scheme by Owens and Gaffey, a partner at a US-based accounting firm.

Gaffey and Owens are also accused of helping an unnamed USA taxpayer defraud the U.S.by maintaining a series of offshore bank accounts to hide wealth from the Internal Revenue Service.

Last Thursday, German prosecutors raided Deutsche bank offices in Frankfurt in an probe of money laundering and tax evasion also linked to the revelations of the Panama Papers expose.

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