United States charges four in 'Panama Papers' tax evasion scheme

Blanche Robertson
December 7, 2018

USA prosecutors have charged four people with ties to the law firm at the centre of the massive leak of offshore financial data known as the "Panama Papers".

The US government announced charges Tuesday, December 4, against 4 men it said laundered money and arranged tax avoidance schemes through the Panama firm at the center of the "Panama Papers" scandal.

Harald Joachim von der Goltz, a client of the firm, was arrested in London on Monday; Dirk Brauer, an employee of an asset management company closely tied to the firm, was arrested in Paris on November 15; and Richard Gaffey, a US-based accountant, was arrested in MA on Tuesday, according to prosecutors.

The trio also allegedly lied that Von Der Goltz's elderly mother owned the fake accounts, because she was a Guatemalan citizen and resident and thus not a USA taxpayer, like Von Der Goltz.

Charged in the indictment were Ramses Owens, 50, a Panamanian attorney who worked for Mossack Fonseca; Dirk Brauer, 54, a German investment manager; Harald Joachim Von Der Goltz, 81, of Germany; and Richard Gaffey, an accountant from Medfield, Massachusetts.

The law firm had relatively few American clients.

The charges against the four carry varying sentences.

Mossack Fonseca's operation was exposed in 2016 by reporters coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which went through 11.5 million leaked files to discover that scores of world leaders, sports and entertainment stars and dozens of billionaires used the firm to hide their wealth.

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Among those charged was Ramses Owens, a partner at the now-defunct firm who the US said helped create, market and service shell companies for the firm's wealthy clients.

Von Der Goltz, according to the indictment, was helped in that scheme by Owens and Gaffey, a partner at a US-based accounting firm.

Gaffey and Owens are accused of falsely claiming that Von Der Goltz's elderly mother was the sole beneficiary of the accounts because she lived in Guatemala and therefore was not a USA taxpayer.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the defendants "shuffled millions of dollars through off-shore accounts" and had "a playbook to repatriate un-taxed money into the U.S. banking system".

Clients were then advised on how to illegally bring the funds from their offshore accounts into the United States, using specially created debit cards and falsely claiming the money had come from the sale of companies.

Investigators said Owens and Brauer had for years created and managed sham foundations, opaque offshore trusts and undeclared bank accounts to allow American clients of Mossack Fonseca to hide their income from USA tax authorities.

Last week, the Frankfurt headquarters of Deutsche Bank was raided by prosecutors in a money laundering investigation.

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