US charges four in ‘Panama Papers’ tax evasion scheme

In this file photo taken on March 30, 2017 General view of the building where Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm offices are located, showing the sign identifying the firm was removed, in Panama City on March 30, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2018
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US charges four in ‘Panama Papers’ tax evasion scheme

  • Prosecutors said that Gaffey, a 74-year-old US citizen, helped another unnamed client of the Mossack Fonseca conceal offshore bank accounts from US authorities

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: US prosecutors announced Tuesday that they have charged four people with taking part in a decades-long scheme to evade US taxes that came to light after a massive leak of offshore financial data known as the “Panama Papers.”
Three of the four people have already been arrested, prosecutors said, in the first criminal case brought by US authorities in connection with Mossack Fonseca & Co, the Panamanian law firm at the center of the leak.
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 Nov. 15; and Richard Gaffey, a US-based accountant, was arrested in Massachusetts on Tuesday, according to prosecutors.
The fourth defendant, Ramses Owens, was a lawyer at Mossack Fonseca and remains at large, prosecutors said. The law firm shut down earlier this year.
Bill Lovett, a lawyer for Gaffey, could not immediately be reached for comment. Lawyers for the other three defendants could not immediately be identified.
The most serious charges in the case, which include wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy, carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
In an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors said that from 2000 to 2017, Owens and Brauer conspired to help clients of Mossack Fonseca conceal assets, investments and income from US tax authorities, using sham foundations and shell companies formed under the law of countries including Panama, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands. Owens, 50, is a citizen of Panama and Brauer, 54, is German citizen, prosecutors said.
One of those clients was von Der Goltz, an 81-year-old German citizen, according to the indictment. Prosecutors said that Owens and Gaffey helped von Der Goltz avoid taxes by creating shell companies and bank accounts that he falsely claimed were solely owned by his elderly mother, a Guatemalan citizen who did not pay US taxes.
Prosecutors also said that Gaffey, a 74-year-old US citizen, helped another unnamed client of the Mossack Fonseca conceal offshore bank accounts from US authorities.
The “Panama Papers,” which consist of millions of documents from Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to the media in April 2016.
A review of the documents also prompted German authorities to raid the offices of Deutsche Bank AG and its board members as part of a money laundering investigation last week.


Macron sparks Turkish anger by meeting Syrian Kurds

Updated 55 min 44 sec ago
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Macron sparks Turkish anger by meeting Syrian Kurds

  • Macron assured the Kurdish envoys of French support in their fight against the remaining militants
  • Ankara accused the French leader of “seeking to confer artificial legitimacy on a faction of terrorist groups”

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday hosted representatives of the Kurdish-led force that defeated Daesh extremists in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Turkey’s foreign ministry.
Macron assured the Kurdish envoys of French support in their fight against the remaining militants, but Ankara accused the French leader of “seeking to confer artificial legitimacy on a faction of terrorist groups.”
“We condemn the reception by French President Emmanuel Macron of a delegation of so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF),” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in the statement.
In late March the US-backed SDF flushed out Daesh fighters from their last bastion in Syria but Kurdish-led force still warns that the militants remain a threat in places.
The SDF is an umbrella Kurdish-Arab force dominated by Kurds from the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It is regarded with huge distrust by neighboring Turkey which sees the YPG as a terror group.
Macron assured the visiting SDF representatives, who were not named, of the “active support of France in the fight against Daesh which continues to be a menace for collective security,” the presidency said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for Daesh.
Particularly important is the support in the “handling of terrorist fighters held as prisoners along with their families.”
European capitals are keeping a careful eye on the Daesh prisoners held by the SDF after the defeat of the militants, given many are dual nationals.
Macron also vowed that financial support would be allocated to “respond to the humanitarian needs and the socio-economic stabilization of civilian populations in Syria.”
The SDF were the West’s key ally in defeating Daesh and waged the bulk of the fighting on the ground.
But they fear being abandoned by their patrons now Daesh has been beaten, after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria.
France’s past contacts with the SDF’s Syrian Kurds had already angered Turkey which regards the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a 35-year insurrection against the Turkish state.
Macron on Friday made clear of the importance to Paris of “the security of Turkey and a de-escalation along the Syrian-Turkish border,” the French presidency said.
But Aksoy said Macron’s move did not sit well with the French-Turkish alliance, and warned that “Turkey will not hesitate to take measures deemed necessary to protect its national security.”