The U.S. Begins a Criminal Probe Into the Panama Papers Disclosures

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U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara is initiating a criminal investigation into any possible wrongdoing revealed into this month’s massive Panama Papers leak.

Bharara wrote to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — which led a reporting effort on the leak with more than 100 global partners — seeking further information on the 11.5 million documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that would help him in his investigation, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Bharara is already investigating many of the 200 U.S. citizens named in the documents, and said in the letter to ICIJ that his office has “opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant.”

Being named in the papers is not itself evidence of wrongdoing, and tax avoidance — as distinct from tax evasion — is a legal activity.

The leak, which revealed the offshore banking affairs of several heads of state, politicians, celebrities and public figures has already resulted in some resignations (most notably that of the Prime Minister of Iceland), and saw U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron come under sustained pressure over whether he benefited from an offshore fund set up by his late father.

U.S. President Barack Obama recently described tax avoidance as a “big global problem” to media at the White House, and advocated “the basic principle of making sure everyone pays their fair share.”

He said the Panama Papers had exposed the intricate web of loopholes that exist to enable the world’s wealthiest individuals to avoid paying taxes.

“A lot of these loopholes come at the expense of middle-class families, because that lost revenue has to be made up somewhere,” he added.

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