Fusion analyzed an archive containing 11.5 million internal documents from Mossack Fonseca’s files, including corporate records, financial filings, emails, and more, extending from the firm's inception in 1977 to December 2015. The documents were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with Fusion and over 100 other media outlets by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) as part of the Panama Papers investigation. The massive leak is estimated to be 100 times bigger than Wikileaks. It's believed to be the largest global investigation in history. ... The results of the yearlong investigation encompass 214,488 corporate entities – among them companies, trusts, and foundations –controlled by everyone from heads of state, politicians, Forbes-listed billionaires, to drug lords, businesses blacklisted by the US government, scammers, and FIFA officials. ... Today, he says, “Panama is essentially an extension of the U.S. economy.” It harkens back to the early 20th century, when canal workers were paid in American dollars. In the roaring, free-market friendly 1920s, Panama adopted U.S.-style corporate laws. ... The move to Central America positioned Jurgen Mossack to ride the offshore banking wave that crested in Panama (and around the world) in the 1970s, when the country adopted bank-secrecy legislation designed to attract foreign money.
To conduct business, shell companies like Drex need a registered agent, sometimes an attorney, who files the required incorporation papers and whose office usually serves as the shell's address. This process creates a layer between the shell and its owner, especially if the dummy company is filed in a secrecy haven where ownership information is guarded behind an impenetrable wall of laws and regulations. In Makhlouf's case—and, I discovered, in the case of various other crooked businessmen and international gangsters—the organization that helped incorporate his shell company and shield it from international scrutiny was a law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which had served as Drex's registered agent from July 4, 2000, to late 2011. ... Founded in Panama in 1977 by German-born Jurgen Mossack and a Panamanian man named Ramón Fonseca, a vice president of the country's current ruling party, it later added a third director, Swiss lawyer Christoph Zollinger. Since the 70s the law firm has expanded operations and now works with affiliated offices in 44 countries, including the Bahamas, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Brazil, Jersey, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, and—perhaps most troubling—the US, specifically the states of Wyoming, Florida, and Nevada. ... Mossack Fonseca, of course, is not alone in setting up shell companies used by the world's crooks and tax evaders. Across the globe, there are vast numbers of competing firms ... If shell companies are getaway cars for bank robbers, then Mossack Fonseca may be the world's shadiest car dealership.
Prosecutors claim that what the FBI seized that day represents a fraction of the ill-gotten funds that tie Mitchell Zong to a spectacular transnational sanctions-evasion scheme, one that laundered more than $1 billion in Iranian government funds over a mere six-month period in 2011. ... And the unlikely figure at the center of this story—which encompasses shadowy Iranian businessmen based in the Middle East and Caucasus; high-ranking South Korean state banking officials; an Iranian-American airline magnate whose planes have been linked to covert work for the U.S. government, including the CIA; the difficult politics of multilateral sanctions; the abstruse world of illicit finance; and laundered property and goods spread across three U.S. states—is a septuagenarian Alaskan ex-salmon exporter and restaurateur, Mitchell’s father, Kenneth Keun Zong. ... the Zong case shows just how fraught this process can be, even when the international community is relatively united, as it was regarding Iran’s nuclear program during the Obama years. Even then, a single U.S. citizen, allegedly aided by bankers and government officials of one of America’s closest allies, was able to puncture the sanctions regime with unsettling ease.