Published On: Fri, Apr 15th, 2016

Skepticism greets Mexico’s promise to investigate 33 businessmen linked to Panama Papers

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Forbes columnist Dolia Estevez writes that Mexican tax authorities said last week they will investigate 33 prominent Mexican businessmen and former officials linked to the Panama Papers, a massive leak of documents on the world of offshore financing used frequently by many of the richest and most powerful around the globe.

Parts of the data were published on April 3 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington-based nonprofit anti-corruption investigative group, and 100 other international news organizations—including Proceso and Aristegui Noticias in Mexico.

The offices of the Mossack Fonseca law firm connected with the Panama Papers scandal are located in this building in Panama City, Panama. (PHOTO: bloomberg.com)

The cache of more than 11 million documents came from Mossack Fonseca–a Panamanian law firm with a global reach that specializes in creating shell companies. The firm has denied any wrongdoing and is reportedly considering legal action.

The ripple effect of the leak has so far provoked the resignation of one Prime Minister (in Iceland), investigations of several heads of state, including Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, and apologies and denials from many more.

Aristóteles Núñez, head of Mexico’s Service of Tax Administration, the country’s equivalent of the IRS, said that the 33 Mexicans linked to the Panama Papers are being investigated for possible tax evasion.

According to Proceso, Mexico’s leading weekly magazine, which based its reporting on an interview that  Núñez gave to Radio Formula, Núñez declined to name names, but confirmed that Emilio Lozoya, former head of Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, is under investigation.

Lozoya “categorically denied” any relation with Mossack Fonseca in his Twitter account. In addition, in a lengthy statement published in El Universalnewspaper, Lozoya said he has never registered or created a company in Panama or opened bank accounts in Panama.

Proceso reported last week that the Panama Papers show that Juan Armando Hinojosa–described by the ICIJ as President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “favorite contractor” because of the multimillion-dollar contracts he won from the State of Mexico when Peña Nieto was its governor–secretly shuffled $100 million through banks and shadow companies. Hinojosa could not be reached for comment.

But Núñez declined to say if Hinojosa, the wealthy entrepreneur whose company, Grupo Higa, built a $7 million luxury mansion for First Lady Angélica Rivera in one of Mexico City’s upscale neighborhoods, is being investigated.

Núñez further said that people with offshore accounts that voluntarily returned those licit or illicit funds to Mexico before the end of June, would have fines and fees waived.

Núñez told CNN en Español that the law will be applied with no distinction –meaning that he will enforce the law no matter what office in government or business the person holds.

But Núñez’s pledge was received with skepticism by many in  Mexico, where corruption and conflict of interest have become part of the country’s political and business culture.

“The government will argue that sending money to Panama or creating shell companies and secret accounts does not violate the law… Arsitóteles Núñez will timidly say that protecting wealth abroad is perfectly legal…,” Denise Dresser, a widely-read political scientist with 2.5 million Twitter followers, said in her weekly Reforma column  on Monday.

While in other parts of the world people may end up indicted because of the Panama Papers, Dresser predicted, in Mexico the documents will most likely end up “misplaced.”

Sources: forbes.com

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