The Latest: Venezuela to probe citizens in 'Panama Papers'

PARIS – The Latest on the publication by a coalition of media outlets of an investigation into offshore financial dealings by the rich and famous (all times local):

2:45 a.m.

Venezuela’s president says his government will investigate any citizens named in the “Panama Papers” leak.

President Nicolas Maduro is asking the chief prosecutor to look into Venezuelans whose names appear in leaked documents that originated with a Panama-based law firm that helps individuals and businesses set up secretive offshore bank accounts and shell companies.

Maduro promised Thursday to investigate any wrongdoing exposed in the leak, while repeating his claim that political enemies of Venezuela’s socialist government are involved in media reporting on the documents.

Venezuelans whose names have appeared in connection to the leak include a former top military officer, a former state oil company official and a security official who worked at the presidential palace during the administration of the late President Hugo Chavez.


12:15 a.m.

The German-born lawyer who co-founded the Panamanian-based Mossack Fonseca law firm at the centre of the “Panama Papers” uproar has resigned from a council advising the Central American country’s government on foreign policy.

Panama’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that lawyer Jurgen Mossack resigned this week from the honorary, unpaid post on the National Council of Foreign Relations, which is an informal advisory board.

Mossack and his partner, Ramon Fonseca, had been political heavyweights in Panama until Sunday’s publication of news stories on the financial affairs of the world’s rich and famous. The stories were based on a trove of 11.5 million documents from the law firm offering details on secretive shell companies.

Fonseca had been a member of Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela’s Cabinet until February.


9:50 p.m.

One nagging question since the Panama Papers story broke is why so few prominent Americans have so far shown up holding offshore accounts.

The lawyer at the centre of the scandal has an explanation: he prefers not to have them as clients.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ramon Fonseca said that he and his German-born partner at Mossack Fonseca like to vacation in the U.S., but they have longstanding ties to Europe and have always focused their business there and Latin America. The few American clients the firm has taken are mostly to handle visas and other requests from Panama’s burgeoning expatriate retirement community.

Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the newspaper that first obtained the 11.5 million confidential documents that make up the Panama Papers, said the files included copies of 200 American passports and 3,500 shareholders in offshore companies listed U.S. addresses. That’s a small fraction of the more than 220,000 offshore companies Mossack Fonseca says it has created in the past four decades.


9:40 p.m.

After days of headlines about his family’s financial affairs, British Prime Minister David Cameron has acknowledged that he profited from his father’s investments in an offshore tax haven.

Cameron told ITV news Thursday that he and his wife Samantha sold shares worth 31,500 pounds (currently $44,300) in Blairmore Holdings in early 2010, before Cameron became prime minister.

A leak of millions of documents from a Panamanian law firm has disclosed the financial arrangements of wealthy people — including the British leader’s late father, Ian Cameron, who died in 2010.

There is no suggestion he acted illegally.

David Cameron’s office has released several previous statements saying the prime minister and his family “do not benefit from any offshore funds” — but not specifying whether they had done so in the past.


7:00 p.m.

An Argentine prosecutor is asking for an investigation into President Mauricio Macri’s role in offshore companies, the latest fallout from a massive leak of documents in Panama that has dogged the South American nation’s leader all week.

Federal prosecutor Federico Delgado made the request Thursday to Judge Sebastian Casanello, according to a formal court document obtained by The Associated Press. Under Argentine law, such a request is the precursor to charges, which must be decided on by the judge.

Delgado argues that an investigation is necessary to see whether Macri “maliciously” omitted his role in two offshore companies in his annual tax declarations.

Macri, a conservative who took power in December, has repeatedly said they were family businesses and he was figurehead that received no salary.


5:25 p.m.

Malta’s opposition Nationalist Party has filed a no-confidence motion against the government after it was revealed that the health and energy minister has a company in Panama.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil told reporters Thursday that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had failed to dismiss Konrad Mizzi, and that his “egoism is having a negative effect on the country’s stability.”

The government proposed that the parliamentary debate take place next week.

The opposition motion is likely to be defeated, as the government enjoys a nine-seat majority. Busuttil said the party is aware of this situation but cannot remain silent in the face of such a scandal.

Mizzi, who is also deputy leader of the governing Labour Party, has acknowledged owning a company in Panama that’s held by a trust in New Zealand. But he insists the leaked documents make no reference to him holding any funds in Panama. He said he has commissioned an independent tax audit to prove he’s done nothing wrong, and that the company in Panama “will be closed soon after the tax investigation is concluded.”


3:15 p.m.

The head of Switzerland’s financial market regulator says the Panama Papers revelations show that the world financial system is susceptible to misuse, and says his office is dealing with money laundering cases that look like “blatant and massive corruption.”

Mark Branson, chief executive of regulator FINMA, said Thursday that his office is dealing with “a number” of money laundering cases, adding: “We are not talking about small-fry.”

He said Switzerland faces a relatively high risk of money laundering as the world’s largest centre for cross-border wealth management for private clients. He said “money laundering is on the increase” in Switzerland and Swiss banks must do more to fight it.

Branson said his office was “taking action” against 14 unspecified banks that are facing “red” ratings for risk of money laundering.


2:50 p.m.

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, one of Italy’s most visible corporate managers, says he has no off-shore account in Panama.

Montezemolo said at a UniCredit bank board meeting on Thursday that a check of his records indicated that references to him in a database of leaked off-shore accounts were related to “proposals by my financial consultants about investments that were never made.”

He added: “I can therefore confirm that I don’t own any off-shore company, or any foreign account, and above all, I have done nothing wrong.”

Montezemolo’s name turned up in a media investigation of accounts set up by a Panama-based law firm. The documents indicate a series contracts that listed Montezemolo, who is currently Alitalia chairman and on the UniCredit board, as head of a Panama-based company called Lenville set up in 2007. He was chairman of Fiat, CEO of Ferrari and head of Italy’s Confindustria industrial lobby at the time.


2:25 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied having any links to offshore accounts and is describing the Panama Papersdocument leaks scandal as part of Western efforts to weaken Russia.

Putin, speaking Thursday at a media forum in St. Petersburg, says even though his name didn’t figure in any of the documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm, Western media pushed the claimsof his involvementin offshore businesses.

Putin described the allegations as part of the U.S.-led disinformation campaign waged against Russia in order to weaken its government.

Putin said his longtime friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin, who figured in the Panama Papers as the owner of $2 billion in offshore assets, has done nothing wrong. He said he was proud of Roldugin, adding that the musician spent his personal money to advance cultural projects in Russia.


2:05 p.m.

The European Union’s top taxation commissioner is calling on Panama to engage in talks on improving transparency so that it might eventually be taken off a list of non-co-operative tax jurisdictions.

Pierre Moscovici said Panama was listed by the EU as a whole — and separately by 8 of the bloc’s 28 nations — as a non-compliant state on tax affairs.

He said that the media revelations linking the central American nation to massive tax fraud were “frankly shocking.”

Moscovici said Thursday: “Let’s call a spade a spade: non-co-operative jurisdictions are tax havens.”

He added that “we have to list them through a common EU blacklist and to be ready to hit them with appropriate sanctions if they refuse to change.”


1:55 p.m.

A member of Dutch bank ABN Amro’s supervisory board says he is stepping down with immediate effect after his name appeared in the huge leak of information on offshore companies known as the Panama Papers.

ABN Amro announced the departure of Bert Meerstadt in a brief statement Thursday that made no mention of his reported links to an offshore corporation established in the British Virgin Islands by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which helps create shell companies for the world’s rich and famous.

The Dutch bank then issued a personal statement from Meerstadt in which he says he already was in the process of leaving ABN Amro, but was now stepping down immediately, “to prevent any detrimental effects to the bank” after two Dutch newspapers linked him to the company on the British Virgin Islands.

In the statement, Meerstadt says he will not comment on the report in the Financieel Dagblad newspaper, which said that he was listed in March 2001 as a shareholder in a company called Morclan Corporation. Two weeks later, the shares in his name were transferred to a trust office on Guernsey.


1:05 p.m.

The chief executive of Austrian lender Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg has resigned after the bank was mentioned in reports about offshore companies.

The bank said Thursday that Michael Grahammer “surprisingly declared his resignation last night.”

Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported this week that at least 20 offshore companies had accounts with Hypo Vorarlberg, including one attributed to Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire with longtime personal ties to President Vladimir Putin.

ORF is one of dozens of media outlets worldwide that had access to the so-called Panama Papers, a trove of documents detailing offshore companies of the rich and famous.

Grahammer said in a statement that “media prejudgment” prompted him to resign, but that both he and the bank had acted according within the law.


12:10 p.m.

Anti-fraud activists are blocking entrances at the Paris headquarters of French bank Societe Generale to protest its alleged involvement in creating offshore accounts, as detailed in the so-called “Panama Papers” reports.

Around 40 protesters physically blocked the main and side entrances of the building in central Paris on Thursday, waving banners that read “Fiscal Fraud, Social Crime.”

Dominique Plihot, spokesman for the ATTAC activist group, said he was there “to create public awareness that Societe Generale was among the big banks cited in the documents” released by an international probe of offshore accounts.

French newspaper Le Monde has said the bank created hundreds of offshore companies via Panamian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Societe Generale denies any accusations of fraud and tax evasion and repeated in a statement its commitment to the fight against such activities.