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Panama Law Firm’s Complaint Spurs Geneva Criminal Probe

  • Le Temps reported arrest of a Mossack Fonseca employee
  • Employee not original leak source, Suddeutsche Zeitung says

Swiss authorities have opened a criminal probe following a complaint by Panama’s Mossack Fonseca -- the law firm at the heart of an international scandal over how the ultrawealthy use anonymity to hide their money -- according to Geneva prosecutors.

Local police searched the firm’s Geneva office and arrested an information technician, according to press reports Wednesday. It wasn’t clear, however, whether the arrested man had any link to the millions of pages of Mossack Fonseca documents that were leaked to international reporters and fueled months of news reports that lifted the veil on global banking secrecy.

The arrested technician was alleged to have leaked confidential data and violated lawyer secrecy rules, the newspaper Le Temps reported, citing the law firm’s lawyer. The technician’s lawyers said he denied the claims, the newspaper reported.

The worker wasn’t the source of the massive document dump to international reporters, according to a report by Suddeutsche Zeitung, the news organization that received the original approach from an anonymous whistle-blower.

The 11.9 million records have led to published stories alleging that secret offshore companies have been used by money launderers, art smugglers, international criminals and repressive governments like Syria.

To read about the searchable database of shell companies advised by Mossack Fonseca, click here.

No one answered the phone at Mossack Fonseca’s Geneva office during regular office hours. A person who answered the phone at its Panama City headquarters asked Bloomberg to send requests for comment by e-mail.

In April, the law firm posted a statement on its website saying its work was being misrepresented; that it conducts due diligence on its clients on an ongoing basis; that it denies services to clients who don’t comply with information requests or have been sanctioned by authorities; and that it cooperates with authorities in investigations.

Identified only as “John Doe,” the person who leaked the documents issued an 1,800-word statement last month, citing “income equality” as the motive behind the leak. The whistle-blower offered to assist authorities in making criminal cases in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Secrecy Laws

Switzerland, known for its strict secrecy laws, has previously targeted figures caught up in whistle-blowing scandals.

Herve Falciani, a former computer worker at HSBC Holdings Plc’s Geneva private bank, was found guilty of corporate espionage in absentia by a Swiss court in 2015. The French citizen was given a five-year prison sentence for trying to sell client data -- even though France, Spain, the U.K. and Italy used the HSBC account data to track down tax dodgers.

The current investigation is being led by prosecutor Claudio Mascotto, his spokesman said.

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