A Panamanian-based law firm is at the center of one of the largest document leaks in history. Millions of files from the firm Mossack Fonseca were given to journalists after a hack of its servers last year, leading to an investigation that exposes the tax havens used by the world’s elite, from Russian President Vladimir Putin to soccer star Lionel Messi, along with many others.
The firm was founded more than 30 years ago by German-born Jurgen Mossack and Panamanian Ramon Fonseca Mora.
Here’s what you need to know about Mossack, Fonseca and their firm:
1. The German-Born Mossack Is the Son of a Waffen-SS Officer & Grew Up in Panama
Jurgen Mossack, one of the founders of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, was born in Fürth, in Bavaria, in 1949, according to a 2015 article in the German business newspaper Handelsblatt.
He moved with his family to Panama and grew up there, the newspaper says.
Mossack’s father served in Hitler’s Waffen-SS during World War II, according to the Panama Papers investigation. The elder Mossack also offered to spy for the U.S. government on “former Nazis turned Communist or unconverted Nazis cloaking themselves as Communists,” after the war, according to U.S. intelligence files obtained by the ICIJ.. He also offered to spy on Communist activity in Cuba, the files show.
Jurgen Mossack studied at the Santa Maria La Antigua University School of Law in Panama, graduating in 1973, according to his biography on the firm’s website. He also studied law in London.
2. Fonseca Is a Political Leader & an Award-Winning Novelist
Fonseca, a 63-year-old native of Panama, studied law and political science at the University of Panama and then went on to the School of Economcis and Political Science London. He worked at the United Nations headquarters in Switzerland before starting his law firm.
Fonseca is also involved in politics, as a leader of the Panamenista party. He has taken a leave of absence from politics because of the investigation, according to the ICIJ.
In addition to his work with Mossack Fonseca and his political activity, Fonseca is an award-winning novelist. He has written four novels, along with plays and short stories, according to his website. He won the Ricardo Miró Prize, the national literary award in Panama, twice.
3. Mossack & Fonseca Merged Their Firms in 1986
Mossack founded his firm in 1977, and in 1983, merged firms with Fonseca in 1983. The firm expanded quickly, according to its website:
With over 500 staff members across every continent, the Mossack Fonseca Group provides excellent services based on more than 35 years of experience. … Our service and research-oriented professionals specialize in trust services, wealth management, international business structures, and commercial law, among other areas.
Our product and service portfolio is constantly updated and renewed, enabling the Group to find the appropriate solution for your business. We offer research, advice and services for the following jurisdictions: Belize, The Netherlands, Costa Rica, United Kingdom, Malta, Hong Kong, Cyprus, British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Panama, British Anguilla, Seychelles, Samoa, Nevada, and Wyoming (USA).
Its attorneys have expertise in “all areas of law,” including “shipping, immigration, contracts and intellectual property, as well as commercial law in general.”
The firm says it also helps clients “physically” relocate to Panama and provides support on immigration matters and buying or renting property in Panama.
4. The ‘Panama Papers’ Leak Includes 11.5 Million Documents Dating Back to the Firm’s Founding
According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Panama Papers leak includes 11.5 million documents that date back to the founding of the firm in 1977.
The result of the leak is an investigation the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has dubbed the “Panama Papers,” that “exposes a system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, hidden by secretive offshore companies.”
The files from Mossack Fonesca, “include the offshore holdings of drug dealers, Mafia members, corrupt politicians and tax evaders – and wrongdoing galore,” according to the ICIJ.
5. The Firm Says It Has Operated ‘Beyond Reproach’ & Has Never Been Accused of Criminal Wrongdoing
Mossack Fonseca issued a statement to the ICIJ after the Panama Papers investigation was published Sunday, saying it has done nothing wrong.
“For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations. Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing,” the firm said.
You can read the full statement here.