Twenty-seven people are on trial from Monday April 8 in Panama in the “Panama Papers” scandal – revealed in 2016 by Le Monde and 108 international media – which showed that personalities from around the world had practiced tax evasion and money laundering through the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world leaders in the domiciliation of offshore companies. Among those on trial are the firm’s founders, Jürgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca Mora.

“The hearing is scheduled for twenty-seven defendants for the alleged commission of the crime of money laundering,” the judiciary wrote in a statement, specifying that the hearings, which are being held before a criminal court, should continue until ‘to April 26. Initially, the trial was scheduled to take place in 2021, but it was postponed several times.

The actions of the Mossack Fonseca study were revealed in 2016 by an investigation, known as the “Panama Papers,” led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICJI). Drawing on the leak of 11.5 million documents from the Mossack Fonseca study, it revealed that heads of state and government, top politicians and figures in finance, sports and the artistic world had hidden properties, businesses, capital and profits from the tax authorities.

Blacklist of tax havens

Among the figures mentioned are, among many others, the former heads of government of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif and of the United Kingdom David Cameron, the former president of Argentina Mauricio Macri, as well as the football star Lionel Messi and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar.

The scandal led to the closure of the Mossack Fonseca firm, and the image of the small Central American country was seriously affected. Panama is therefore on the blacklist of tax havens established by the European Union.

Some provisions of Panama’s anti-money laundering laws were not yet in place when the case broke, which could make convictions more difficult. In Panama, the crime of tax evasion has only been punishable since 2019 and for amounts exceeding 300,000 dollars (approximately 276,931 euros) per year. Previously, tax evasion was not considered a crime but a simple administrative offense.

In June 2023, a sentence of up to twelve years in prison was requested against the founders of the law firm in the so-called “Lava Jato” case for money laundering in relation to Brazilian construction companies, including the giant Odebrecht.

The judgment has not yet been made public in this case independent of the “Panama Papers” scandal. It highlighted bribes paid by Brazilian construction companies, including Odebrecht, to officials in several Latin American countries for the purpose of obtaining public contracts between 2005 and 2014. In addition to the two lawyers , around thirty defendants are on trial in this case. All said they were innocent. Mr Ramon Fonseca called the accusation “ridiculous”.