GENEVA – A computer specialist for the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca has been taken into custody by Geneva authorities in a probe linked to the leak of a massive trove of data on offshore companies, a Swiss newspaper reported Wednesday.
Daily Le Temps, citing an unidentified person close to the case, reports that Geneva prosecutors earlier this week placed the computer specialist for the firm’s local office in temporary detention in connection with the recent release of “a very large volume of confidential data.”
The revelations could foment new speculation about the mysterious source of the so-called “Panama Papers” leak, in which a person gave a German newspaper a huge trove of data detailing the owners and clients of thousands of offshore entities.
The report did not specify when the data was released, but said Geneva prosecutors led a police raid of Mossack Fonseca’s local office in which computer equipment was seized.
The Geneva prosecutor’s office confirmed to The Associated Press that a criminal investigation led by state prosecutor Claudio Mascotto has been opened following a complaint by Mossack Fonseca, but declined further comment. The law firm’s local office did not respond to calls or an email seeking comment.
Data on more than 200,000 offshore entities was leaked to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it this year with a global network of investigative journalists. They published reports on the most interesting cases, and made public a list of thousands of names.
The articles detailed how world leaders, celebrities and businesses use shell companies incorporated in low-tax countries like the Bahamas, the British Virgins Islands or Panama that accept to keep the identity of the owners secret.
Owning an offshore company is not necessarily illegal, but is often used to evade or avoid taxes, launder money and make bribes. They can also be used to ensure privacy or protect wealth from an authoritarian regime.
The broad repercussions of the leaks led to the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister and brought scrutiny to many others, like the leaders of Argentina and Ukraine, Chinese politicians, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and his friends.
Last month, Sueddeutsche Zeitung published what it called a manifesto from its anonymous source, who called himself “John Doe” and was described as having been moved to act by “the scale of the injustices.”
In the manifesto, the author said the leaked documents “show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal by definition, they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes that go beyond evading taxes.”
A court in Switzerland, long known for a super-secretive financial sector, in November convicted in absentia a former employee with international bank HSBC, Herve Falciani, for leaking bank data that led to a worldwide wave of tax evasion probes.