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Panama Papers: Mossack Fonseca was unable to identify company owners

A new leak of documents from the offshore service provider at the centre of the Panama Papers scanda..



A new leak of documents from the offshore service provider at the centre of the Panama Papers scandal reveals the company could not identify the owners of up to three quarters of companies it administered.

Two months after becoming aware of the data breach, Mossack Fonseca was unable to identify the beneficial owners of more than 70% of 28,500 active companies in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as well as 75% of companies in Panama, according to new documents seen by BBC Panorama.

At the time, BVI law permitted corporate service providers to rely upon intermediaries, banks, legal firms and other offshore service providers overseas to check the identities of the owners, although they were required to provide information if requested by the authorities.

The firm was fined $440,000 (£333,000) by the BVI Financial Services Commission in November 2016 for regulatory and legal infringements of anti-money laundering and other laws.

The new leak contains 1.2 million documents dating from before the Panama Papers went public in April 2016 to December 2017. The data was obtained by Suddeutsche Zeitung which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Email correspondence from clients and intermediaries reveal the reaction to the leak, Mossack Fonseca's desperate attempts to close gaps in their record keeping, and their difficulties doing so. Responding to questions from the firm, one Swiss wealth manager said: "THE CLIENT HAS DISAPPEARED! I CANT FIND HIM ANYMORE!!!!!!"

Other correspondence points to the primary reasons many clients were using offshore structures.

One Uruguayan financial planner commented: "…the main purpose of this type of structure has been broken: confidentiality".

Another intermediary wrote: "… the names of our customers have been known by the authorities of their countries. Thanks to Mossack, customers have to pay incomes taxes."

According to Margaret Hodge MP, former chair of the UK parliament's public accounts committee: "This is simply further proof, if any were needed, why we absolutely must have public registers of beneficial owners if we are to stamp out money laundering, tax avoidance, tax evasion and other crimes."

In the wake of the Panama Papers and under pressure from the UK government, the BVI and other British Overseas Territories have established registers of beneficial ownership for companies in their jurisdictions. But the register relies upon offshore service providers, like Mossack Fonseca, to provide the information. And it is only directly accessible to authorities in the BVI – the public cannot see it.

The BVI denies the register is secret and says it is accessible to the authorities and relevant UK authorities on request within one hour. They say they have been at the forefront of global transparency initiatives.

A spokesman said: "A public register is not a silver bullet. It is not about who can see the information, it's about the information being verified, accurate, and therefore useful to law enforcement. A verified register is a far more robust and effective approach to ensure transparency than an unverified public register."

The BVI has resisted pressure for a public register open to scrutiny.

Last month the UK government adopted an amendment to its Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill to force overseas territories to establish public registers by 2020. The BVI government is considering a legal challenge.

Margaret Hodge, who tabled the amendment with former Conservative minister Andrew Mitchell says: "I would be astounded if the BVI government chooses to waste their own taxpayers' money litigating against the British parliament – now supported by the British government."

A spokesman for BVI Finance said that legal advice was "that the imposition of a public register raises serious constitutional and human rights issues. As we have consistently stated, our position is that we will not introduce public registers until they become a global standard".

The Panama Papers investigation went public in April 2016 when the BBC and more than 100 other media organisations started publishing stories emanating from 11.5 million documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca.

The investigation was organised by the ICIJ and involved journalists from 76 countries scrutinising internal emails and corporate documents passed to the ICIJ by Suddeutsche Zeitung.

The German newspaper obtained the data from an anonymous source called "Jon Doe".

The UK investigation was led by BBC Panorama and the Guardian newspaper.

Revelations included documents linking Russian President Vladimir Putin's close friend, the cellist Sergi Roldugin, to suspected money laundering, Fifa corruption, sanctions busting and systemic tax dodging.

Then Prime Minister David Cameron faced a barrage of questioning over his late father's offshore investment fund and the prime minister of Iceland was forced to resign following demonstrations about his failure to declare an offshore interest.

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Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif resigned last year as a result of an investigation prompted by revelations about his family's offshore financial affairs.

Panamanian police raided Mossack Fonseca's offices and by the end of 2016 governments and companies in 79 countries had launched 150 inquiries, audits or investigations into the firm, companies it worked with, or its clients.

The new documents show how authorities from around the world, including the UK's Serious Fraud Office, contacted Mossack Fonseca demanding information about individuals and companies identified in the leak.

Mossack Fonseca's documents have since been obtained by a number of tax authorities including HM Revenue and Customs which paid an undisclosed sum for the leaked data.

In November 2017, the UK tax authority revealed there were 66 ongoing investigations related to the Panama Papers and that they expected to recover £100m in tax.

Three months ago Mossack Fonseca announced it was closing down citing reputational damage and the actions of the Panamanian authorities. In a statement this month, the company's founders said that neither they, the firm, nor its employees, were "involved in unlawful acts".

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Colombian plane crash: New clues found in search for lost children



A desperate search for four children who have been missing since their plane crashed in the Colombian jungle on 1 May has yielded new clues.

Items belonging to the siblings, who are aged between 11 months and 13 years, have been found in two different locations in the rainforest.

Their mother and the other adults on board the plane died in the crash.

But search teams say small footprints found last week indicate that the children survived the impact.

The footprints were spotted on Thursday and specialists said most likely belonged to the children.

Earlier last week, search teams had found a child’s drinking bottle, a pair of scissors and a hair tie, as well as what appeared to be a makeshift shelter made from branches and a half-eaten passion fruit.

The children belong to the Huitoto indigenous group and members of their community have expressed the hope that their knowledge of fruits and jungle survival skills will have given them a better chance of surviving the ordeal.

But despite more than 100 soldiers combing the jungle, no further traces were found until the early hours of Wednesday.

The latest items were spotted by an indigenous woman some 500m (1,640ft) from the crash site.

She found a dirty nappy, a green towel and shoes, which judging by their size are thought to belong to the second youngest of the missing siblings, who is four years old. The nappy is believed to have been worn by the 11-month-old baby.

At a separate location, the search team found another nappy, a mobile phone case and a pink cap which matches the drinking bottle found last week.

Indigenous people have joined the search and helicopters have been broadcasting a message from the children’s grandmother recorded in the Huitoto language urging them to stay put and to stop moving so as to make them easier to locate.

The latest traces are further indication that the four siblings survived the plane crash which killed their mother and the plane’s pilot and co-pilot, the Colombian army said.

But it warned that the state of the items suggested that they had not been abandoned there recently, but “sometime between 3 and 8 May”.

The army added that it was encouraged by the fact that none of the items showed traces of blood.

The army colonel in charge of the search also said that all indications were that the four children were roaming the jungle on their own.

Last week, Colombia’s president came under criticism when a tweet published on his account announced that the children had been found.

He erased the tweet the next day saying that the information – which his office had been given by Colombia’s child welfare agency – could not be confirmed.


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Pedro I: Emperor’s embalmed heart arrives in Brazil



The embalmed heart of Brazil’s first emperor, Dom Pedro I, has arrived in the capital Brasilia to mark 200 years of independence from Portugal.

The heart, which lies preserved in a flask filled with formaldehyde, was flown on board a military plane from Portugal.

It will be received with military honours before going on public display at the foreign ministry.

The heart will be returned to Portugal after Brazil’s independence day.

Portuguese officials gave the go-ahead for the preserved organ to be moved from the city of Porto for the celebrations of Brazil’s bicentenary.

The organ arrived on a Brazilian air force plane accompanied by the mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira.

Mayor Moreira said it would return to Portugal after having basked “in the admiration of the Brazilian people”.

“The heart will be received like a head of state, it will be treated as if Dom Pedro I was still living amongst us,” Brazil foreign ministry’s chief of protocol Alan Coelho de Séllos said.

There will be a cannon salute, a guard of honour and full military honours.

“The national anthem [will be played] and the independence anthem, which by the way was composed by Dom Pedro I, who as well as an emperor was a good musician in his spare time,” Mr Séllos said.

Dom Pedro was born in 1798 into Portugal’s royal family, which at the time also ruled over Brazil. The family fled to the then-Portuguese colony to evade Napoleon’s invading army.

When Dom Pedro’s father, King John VI, returned to Portugal in 1821, he left the 22-year-old to rule Brazil as regent.

A year later, the young regent defied the Portuguese parliament, which wanted to keep Brazil as a colony, and rejected its demand that he return to his home country.

On 7 September 1822 he issued Brazil’s declaration of independence and was soon after crowned emperor.

He returned to Portugal to fight for his daughter’s right to accede to the Portuguese throne and died aged 35 of tuberculosis.

On his deathbed, the monarch asked that his heart be removed from his body and taken to the city of Porto, where it is kept in an altar in the church of Our Lady of Lapa.

His body was transferred to Brazil in 1972 to mark the 150th anniversary of independence and has been kept in a crypt in São Paulo.

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Brazil’s indigenous communities fear mining threat over war in Ukraine



Maurício Ye’kwana worries about the future. He comes from the community of Auaris, in northern Brazil, close to the border with Venezuela.

The area, part of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, is rich in gold, diamonds and minerals – and illegal miners want a piece of it. In all, there are an estimated 20,000 illegal miners on the land.

“It’s got worse in the past few years,” Maurício says, explaining that during the pandemic, the number of planes, helicopters and boats linked to illegal mining increased.

He’s only 35, but it’s the younger generation that concerns him – boys increasingly being lured into illegal work.

“The young people are the best boat drivers,” he says. They can earn as much as 10,000 Brazilian reais ($2,140; £1,645) for a single trip.

Maurício has come to Brasilia to take part in the Free Land Camp, an annual event that brings together indigenous communities looking to defend their land rights.

On Brasilia’s main esplanade, a grand avenue that leads to Congress and the presidential palace, communities from across the country have erected hundreds of tents.

Milling around the camp are indigenous Brazilians, many of them wearing feathered headdresses, intricate beaded jewellery and painted with geometric tattoos identifying their tribe.

This year, the event has taken on an even bigger meaning.

President Jair Bolsonaro has made it his mission to push economic development in the Amazon. In his latest attempt to make inroads into indigenous territories, he has cited the war in Ukraine. Brazil relies heavily on imported fertilisers for its agribusiness industry – more than 90% of its fertilisers come from abroad, and Russia is its most important partner.

“A good opportunity arose for us,” Mr Bolsonaro said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has argued that by mining in indigenous territories, Brazil can build more of its own potassium reserves.

It’s an argument questioned by some experts.

“Only 11% of the reserves are inside indigenous lands and other states like São Paulo and Minas have reserves,” says politician Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman voted into Congress in 2018. “It’s a false narrative that tries to confuse the minds of the Brazilians, making them believe it’s important, that people won’t have food on their table.”

Also, it’s not a short-term fix.

“From a technological and environmental perspective, the licences needed and the infrastructure – it all takes time. Being able to offer these products to the Brazilian market would probably take seven to 10 years,” says Suzi Huff, Prof of Geology at the University of Brasilia. “We’re talking about an extremely sensitive area in which care needs to be taken. It’s false to say that it will solve Brazil’s problems.”

The bill has been in the works since 2020. But last month, the lower house voted to consider it under emergency provisions, removing the need for committee debates.

“It’s very clearly blackmail,” says Prof Huff. “Bolsonaro saw an opportunity to continue with this project of allowing mineral exploration including in indigenous lands and used the scarcity of fertilisers in Brazil to move forward with this project.”

It was expected to be voted on in the lower house this week, but that hasn’t happened – and few believe, in this election year, that it will. Not even the big players in the industry agree with it, with the Brazilian Institute of Mining last month saying it was a bill “not suitable for its intended purposes”, and calling for broader debate.

While a delay in voting is seen as a relief by indigenous leaders, it’s still a challenge on the ground.

“A fiery political discourse encourages invasions in indigenous lands,” says Joenia Wapichana. “The fact that Bolsonaro says he supports mining, that he will regulate mining in indigenous lands already exposes the indigenous people and makes them more vulnerable.”

The discourse is, of course, deeply political, especially with elections around the corner. On Tuesday, former president Lula da Silva – and the man leading in the polls to win October’s vote – made a visit to the camp.

“Today the headlines are about a government that doesn’t have scruples when it comes to offending and attacking the indigenous communities who are already on this land,” he said.

The response was huge cheers of “out with Bolsonaro” – but there are still six months until the elections. And this is Brazil – much can change in politics here, and the future of Brazil’s indigenous tribes is more uncertain than ever.

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