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US indicts four tied to money laundering at 'Panama Papers' firm

The building where the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm ran what US prosecutors say was a global operation helping wealthy people launder money and avoid taxes
The building where the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm ran what US prosecutors say was a global operation helping wealthy people launder money and avoid taxes The building where the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm ran what US prosecutors say was a global operation helping wealthy people launder money and avoid taxes AFP
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Washington (AFP)

The US government announced charges Tuesday against four men it said laundered money and arranged tax avoidance schemes through the Panama firm at the center of the "Panama Papers" scandal.

The four were affiliated with Mossack Fonseca, the law firm that helped thousands of clients around the world move money offshore to protect it from taxes.

Named in the 11-count indictment were Ramses Owens, 50, Dirk Brauer, 54; Richard Gaffey, and Harald Joachim Von Der Goltz, 81.

Owens is a Panamanian attorney who worked for Mossack Fonseca. Brauer, a German national, was an investment manager for Mossfon Asset Management, which was closely affiliated to Mossack Fonseca, the Justice Department said.

Both were accused of marketing, creating and managing anonymously-owned shell companies on behalf of clients seeking to conceal assets from US tax authorities.

Gaffey was a US accountant who allegedly helped Americans set up accounts with Mossack Fonseca, and Von Der Goltz, a German national who lived in the United States, was assisted by Gaffey and Owens in setting up offshore shell companies to hide assets, according to the charges.

Prosecutors said Brauer was arrested in Paris on November 15, Van Der Goltz was arrested in London on Monday, and Gaffey was arrested in Boston Tuesday.

Owens remains at large.

Mossack Fonseca's operation was exposed in 2016 by reporters coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which went through 11.5 million leaked files to discover that scores of world leaders, sports and entertainment stars and dozens of billionaires used the firm to hide their wealth.

It implicated Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and his wife; banks, companies and aides close to Russian President Vladimir Putin; families of Chinese President Xi Jinping and former British prime minister David Cameron; Middle East royals, and other international figures.

"As alleged, these defendants went to extraordinary lengths to circumvent US tax laws in order to maintain their wealth and the wealth of their clients," said Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

"Now, their international tax scheme is over, and these defendants face years in prison for their crimes."

Last Thursday, German prosecutors raided Deutsche bank offices in Frankfurt in an probe of money laundering and tax evasion also linked to the revelations of the Panama Papers expose.

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