[Article updated on April 29, 2016 to reflect new information on the Panama Papers that was made public]
The explosive release of millions of papers reportedly exposing the offshore tax arrangements of the world's elite has triggered investigations from the UK and Australia. The 11 million confidential documents from Mossack Fonseca allegedly show how the Panamanian law firm allegedly helped their clients avoid tax over 40 years.
The material was leaked to German daily newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and passed onto the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). More than 100 outlets across the world have since analysed the papers, including the BBC and The Guardian.
The leak apparently links 143 politicians, including 12 national leaders, to Mossack Fonseca and offshore tax havens. The Guardian claimed six peers in the House of Lords, three former Tory MPs and some political party donors were named in the files.
Former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Michael Ashcroft is reportedly named in the files. But a spokeswoman for the businessman denied the allegations. "These allegations are completely untrue, and the events as described never happened. The records upon which you claim to rely for those allegations either do not exist or have been falsified," Alan Kilkenny told the ICIJ. Subsequently, the ICIJ conceded that that the inclusion of Lord Ashcroft in the Panama Papers was incorrect and removed all references to him from its website.
Britain's tax authority, HM Revenue and Customs, has promised to "closely examine" the so called "Panama Papers" and issued a warning to tax avoiders. "HMRC can confirm that we have already received a great deal of information on offshore companies, including in Panama, from a wide range of sources, which is currently the subject of intensive investigation," Jennie Grainger, HMRC's director-general of enforcement, told the Press Association.
Massive leak branded a 'crime'
Tax authorities in Australia have also launched their own probe into the documents. Michael Cranston, deputy commissioner of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), said: "The information we have includes some taxpayers who we have previously investigated, as well as a small number who disclosed their arrangements with us under the Project DO IT initiative.
"It also includes a large number of taxpayers who haven't previously come forward, including high wealth individuals, and we are already taking action on those cases. "Through data analysis we have been able to identify patterns such as clusters of individual taxpayer and advisers for further investigation. The message is clear – taxpayers can't rely on these secret arrangements being kept secret and we will act on any information that is provided to us."
Meanwhile, Mossack Fonseca co-founder Ramón Fonseca has branded the leak as a "crime". The lawyer also claimed that his firm has never been "convicted or accused or any wrongdoing".
"Privacy is a fundamental human right that is being eroded more and more in the modern world. Each person has a right to privacy, whether they are a king or a beggar," he told the AfP news agency.