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To See the Submerged Economy of Venezuela you have to Dive in Panama

As part of a global project, Venezuelan journalists participated in the review of millions of files leaked from a Panamanian law firm specialized in registering companies in tax havens. The documents, obtained by the German newspaper 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' and processed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), show patterns for government officials and business groups to hide their identities or money.

3/2/2016 12:09:12 PM

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The information includes e-mails, financial forms, passports and corporate records that reveal the secret owners of bank accounts and companies in 21 offshore jurisdictions. The filtered internal files of MF (Mossack Fonseca law firm) contain information on 214,488 offshore entities connected to people in over 200 countries and territories.

The incredible amount of information led the newspaper to resort to ICIJ, based in Washington DC, and with previous experience in this type of project, which developed an ad hoc team to organize and process the information. The database was shared with a network of more than 370 journalists and 100 media around the world.

In the case of Venezuela, the investigation began in June 2015 and involved 11 journalists from different electronic media. Although a large part of the hundreds of thousands of documents related to Venezuela do not include relevant information, the mere review, analysis and processing of the information entailed months of work.

It is clear that organizing an offshore company itself is not a crime and it is even natural for certain commercial transactions.

Most services provided by the offshore industry are legal if used by those who abide to the law. But the documents show that banks, law firms and other offshore players often did not meet the law requirements to make sure that their clients are not involved in criminal activities, tax evasion or political corruption. In some cases - as evident in the files - offshore intermediaries protected themselves and their clients by concealing suspicious transactions or altering official records.

Sometimes the provider did verify through due diligence that a prospect was a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) or someone suspected of criminal activities, but decided to ignore the finding.

This unusual journalistic access to the internal management of Mossack Fonseca and its relationship with its clients made it possible to verify that provider and client regularly scheme to mislead the regulatory authorities of their countries of origin on the ownership of companies, and subsequently arrange the registration of companies previously registered, among other practices aimed to cover up the circulation of money that is concealed or legitimized.