Lifestyles of the Rich & Crooked – Money Laundering, Drug Running & Hiding $Trillions

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Asia Times Editor
Wed, April 6, 2016
Subject; Panama Papers 11.5million pages of Evidence

The Panama Papers

What I Learned From the Panama Papers

First major casualty of Panama Papers leak: Iceland PM resigns

Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson has tendered his resignation over allegations of offshore investments revealed in the Panama Papers leak.

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson
The move will require approval by Iceland’s president and Gunlaugsson’s Progressive Party’s coalition partners in the Independence Party.

Progressive Party deputy leader Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, who is also currently minister of fisheries and agriculture, told reporters the party will suggest to its Independence Party coalition partners that he should become the new prime minister.

Earlier, Iceland’s president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson refused a request from the prime minister to dissolve parliament and call a new election.

Gunnlaugsson was facing growing calls for him to step down because of reported offshore financial dealings by him and his wife which opposition politicians say show a massive conflict of interest with his job.

The leaked papers reveal how he hid millions of dollars of investments in his country’s banks behind a secretive offshore company Wintris in 2007.

He did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament in 2009 and sold his 50% of Wintris to his wife for $1 (70p), eight months later.

Soon after the Panama reports emerged, thousands of people took to the streets of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.

Banners reading “Elections Now” could be seen in the capital, Ice News reported, adding that other posters around the city encourage drivers to honk their horns in protest.

UK urged to impose direct rule on tax havens

In another significant development, Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said UK should impose direct rule on British overseas territories or crown dependencies like Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.

Jeremy Corbyn
These tax havens have become honey pots of international corruption, tax avoidance and evasion. Britain has a huge responsibility as they come under its control, he said.

Corbyn’s remarks came after a spokesman for David Cameron said the prime minister’s late father’s reported links to an offshore company were a “private matter”.

There cannot be one set of rules for the wealthy elite and another for the rest. The rich, who are sucking tax revenues out of the country, must pay their way, the Labour leader said.

China blasts Panama reports, censors media coverage

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday denounced as “groundless” reports based on documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm that name relatives of current and retired Chinese politicians, including President Xi Jinping, as owning offshore companies.

Spokesman Hong Lei said he would not discuss the reports further and declined to say whether the individuals named would be investigated.

“For these groundless accusations, I have no comment,” Hong told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.

Family of Xi Jinping is mentioned in the Panama Papers
Family of Xi Jinping is mentioned in the Panama Papers
State media are ignoring reports on the revelations. Search results of websites and social media for the words “Panama documents” were blocked Tuesday.

The blocking was not total, however, with some searches for Panama-related news resulted in stories mentioning soccer player Lionel Messi and others featured in the documents not related to China.

The nationalistic tabloid Global Times published an editorial saying an unidentified “powerful force” was behind the document leak. It said the main targets were opponents of the West, especially Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The Western media has taken control of the interpretation each time there has been such a document dump, and Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it. Information that is negative to the U.S. can always be minimized, while exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin,” said the newspaper published by the party’s flagship People’s Daily.

The paper made no mention of any involvement by Chinese figures.

The government’s response came as no surprise, but many Chinese are likely to have heard about the Panama reports by finding ways around the censors or by discussing them indirectly, said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based independent historian and political observer.

“As usual, the first reaction of the Chinese government is to block the information from spreading,” Zhang said.

“It is difficult to prevent that, but they may be able to put the situation under control, unless someone within the system attempts to take advantage of the incident,” Zhang said.

The family lives and personal finances of Chinese leaders are taboo subjects for Chinese media and reports on them in the international press can draw angry responses from Beijing.

Relatives of at least five past or present members of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee are said to have held companies registered in tax shelters in the Cook Islands or British Virgin Islands.

Along with Xi, they include relatives of former premiers Wen Jiabao and Li Peng, ex-president Hu Jintao and one-time paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who oversaw China’s transition from orthodox Marxism to a hybrid communist-capitalist system.

Responding to the Panama leak, Russia said the documents contained “nothing concrete and nothing new.”

‘Putinophobia’ has hit boiling point and the ‘insinuations’ in Panama leak do not need response, it added.

Putin has not made any comment on the Panama leak so far.

‘Not a story about Russia’

Publishing Panama papers on offshore tax havens was not directed against Russia, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) Gerard Ryle said Tuesday.

“As you can see, it wasn’t a story about Russia. It was a story about the offshore world,” Ryle said. “We have not released the full database and we don’t intend to,” he added.

As the leak triggered global investigations, world leaders denied wrongdoing.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said his late father’s reported links to an offshore company were a “private matter”.

Pakistan denied any wrongdoing by the family of Prime Minister Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his daughter and son were linked to offshore companies.

How it all started

The documents were leaked to the ICIJ and more than 100 other news organisations by Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) which had received 11.5 million documents of a Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca online from an anonymous source a year ago.

A security guard sits outside the the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama City
A security guard sits outside the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama City
The source first approached Süddeutsche Zeitung anonymously on the Internet with a promise of vast amounts of data.

It “wanted neither financial compensation nor anything else in return.”

It also insisted on using encrypted communications and that there be no meeting. The source’s life was in danger.

“I want to make these crimes public,” the source said, when asked why they had come forward.

The ICIJ brought together a large team of journalists and data experts to help sift through and interpret the data. The work was akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

The data in the so-called Panama Papers, “provides rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows. It proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous: from politicians, FIFA officials, fraudsters and drug smugglers, to celebrities and professional athletes,” the German newspaper wrote.

The information in the leak covers the activities of Mossack Fonseca, that has branches in Hong Kong, Miami, Zurich and more than 35 other places around the globe, over a period from the 1970s to spring 2016.

“The Panama Papers include approximately 11.5 million documents – more than the combined total of the Wikileaks Cablegate, Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, and Swiss Leaks,” SZ said.

ICIJ will release the full list of companies and people linked to the Panama Papers in early May. The data is presented in the form of e-mails, PDF files, photo files, and excerpts from the Panaman firm’s database.

It is strange that leaders like Chinese President Xi Jinping, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who have embraced anti-corruption platforms, feature in the leaked documents.

Presidents, prime ministers and kings are included in the long list of those who salted away their money in offshore tax havens. Among them are Mauricio Macri, president of Argentina, Ali Abu al-Ragheb, former Prime Minister of Jordan, Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of United Arab Emirates, Ahmad Ali al-Mirghani, former President of Sudan, Juan Carlos, former king of Spain, Hamad bin Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, Bidzina Ivanishvili, former Prime Minister of Georgia, Azerbaijani President Ilam Aliyev and Lansana Conté, Guinea’s former president.

The leak claims to expose the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders, including Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif
Among those named of Sharif’s family are his children — Maryam Safdar, who has been tipped to be his political successor and Hasan and Hussain, with the records showing they owned London real estate through offshore companies administrated by the firm.

The Panama Papers show Maryam as the owner of the company Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited in the British Virgin Islands.

The companies each owned a plot in the UK, “occupied by the owner and his family”, as stated in an internal email from Mossack Fonseca. Both properties are located in London Park Lane, near Hyde Park.

“Nawaz Sharif does not own any company but having companies in the name of his children also raises questions,” Umar Cheema of the independent Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan.

Pakistan Opposition leader Imran Khan issued a swift call for action against Sharif after the release.

“Our stance vindicated again as Sharif’s wealth stashed abroad exposed,” he tweeted.

Indians may get away with a fine

Amitabh Bachchan (L) and his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan (L) and his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan are mentioned in the Panama Papers
While the Indian government has ordered the formation of a special agency to investigate Indians who figure in the ‘Panama papers’ , legalities governing the recovery of information may help most of the 500 Indians featured in the report for alleged tax evasion get away with a simple fine instead of tough action and jail time.

Indian politicians, businessmen and film stars figure in the list of suspects who stashed money abroad to avoid tax or launder it.

Foreign government authorities will supply records on these offshore entities to Indian income tax officials under the double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) framework meant exclusively for taxation purposes and not prosecution.

This means defaulters will get immunity from being prosecuted under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act law or forex violations under Foreign Exchange Management Act, administered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

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