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Panama puts secrecy under the spotlight

By Chloe Smith and Michael Cross » A leak of 11 million documents spanning several decades from a Panama law firm has put the role of lawyers in company and trust formations and property transactions under worldwide scrutiny. Panama City firm Mossack Fonseca vigorously denies any wrongdoing. In a statement it said the documents, which were reportedly obtained by unauthorised access to an email server and leaked to a German newspaper ‘actually show the high standards we operate under’ in conducting due diligence on clients. ‘We routinely deny services to individuals who are compromised or who fail to provide information we need in order to comply with “know your client” obligations or when we identify other red flags,’ it added. UK news coverage focused on revelations of the law firm’s role in forming companies on behalf of individuals including the prime minister’s late father and in rendering opaque the ultimate ownership of properties bought by foreign companies, especially in London. The government is consulting on plans to create a register of beneficial ownership of foreign companies buying land and property in England and Wales. Family lawyers said the revelations on how wealthy parties in divorce cases hide their fortunes could make investigations of such activity more frequent. Nigel Shepherd, a partner at Mills & Reeve who will take over as chair of family law group Resolution later this month, told the Gazette that the publicity would be ‘helpful’ to lawyers trying to persuade judges that assets were being concealed. Tony Roe, of Tony Roe Solicitors, said the Panama leak would give impetus to such cases following the Supreme Court’s rulings in Sharland and Gohil. ‘This leak should come as a warning to any divorcing spouse who might be considering being less than forthright about their finances,’ he said.


[Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette]