Two years after the Panama Papers rocked the offshore financial system, a fresh document leak from the law firm Mossack Fonseca reveals new offshore details about an array of global elites, including soccer superstar Lionel Messi and the Argentine president’s family.
Lionel Messi’s offshore mess
Lionel Messi, the Barcelona star who is now leading Argentina in the Russia World Cup, was already under investigation in Spain on charges that he and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, used offshore companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes when the Panama Papers revealed he owned yet another offshore company: Mega Star Enterprises, based in Panama.
When asked about the company in April 2016, the Messis told ICIJ and partners that Mega Star was “totally inactive.” Internal emails from the newly-leaked Mossack Fonseca records call that claim into question.
The “Uruguay office tells me that the client is using the company”, a law firm employee wrote in May 2016, a month later. Mossack Fonseca resigned as the registered agent for Mega Star Enterprises in July 2016, the documents show. the same month the Messis were convicted by a Spanish court of tax fraud. Lionel was given a 21-month suspended sentence and fined $2.2 million.
A lawyer for Messi told Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, an ICIJ partner, that Mega Star Enterprises was an old issue and was part of the former corporate scheme that had already been adjudicated. The company is not being activity used, the lawyer said.
Macri’s ‘risky’ plans
Emails between Mossack Fonseca’s head office in Panama and its Uruguay branch in September and October 2016 show employees discussing a plan to backdate documents to conceal the fact that the firm did not know that a company it had set up in the Bahamas, Fleg Trading Co., was controlled by the family of Argentine president Mauricio Macri.
Macri and other family members were directors of Fleg Trading, the original Panama Papers investigation revealed. His father was the owner. Anti-money-laundering laws required Mossack Fonseca to know such information.
Mossack Fonseca employees discussed having Macri’s accountant produce a handwritten document in 2016, but dated years earlier, that would confirm the company’s owner, according to emails. The accountant dismissed the idea as “very risky” since the letter “could be refuted easily by an expert calligrapher,” who would pick up that the document was written more recently than the purported earlier date, according to Mossack Fonseca’s internal emails.
The client did not want to “gamble,” the emails said, “since there is the President of Argentina and his family involved.”
The new files also show that Mossack Fonseca didn’t know of the Macri’s family connections to BF Corporation, another shell company. BF Corporation was owned by Macri’s brothers, Mariano and Gianfranco, according to Argentine press reports. Those reports have noted that German prosecutors alerted Argentine authorities in 2016 about suspicious transactions involving BF Corporation based, in part, on revelations from the Panama Papers investigation. The transactions occurred days before the October 2015 first round voting that led to Mauricio Macri’s election the following month.
A spokesman for the Macri family’s company, Socma, told ICIJ media partner La Nación that the president’s father declared his ownership of Fleg Trading, which was confirmed by a judge in Argentina. The spokesman said he had no information or comment on the discussions between Mossack Fonseca and the Uruguayan accountant.
(International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)