NEW YORK: The US justice department has begun a criminal investigation involving the Panama Papers, according to a letter written to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the group that exposed the faces behind offshore companies.
A British newspaper, quoting Preet Bharara, attorney for Manhattan, said the department had sought information about 11.5 million documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm.
The ICIJ led a reporting effort with more than 100 global partners.
Mr Bharara, who is also investigating over 200 US citizens named in the documents, said in the letter that his office had “opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant”.
The leak, which revealed the offshore banking affairs of several heads of state, politicians, celebrities and public figures, has already resulted in some resignations (most notably that of the prime minister of Iceland) and saw UK Prime Minister David Cameron come under sustained pressure over whether he benefited from an offshore fund set up by his late father.
President Barack Obama recently described tax avoidance as a “big global problem” to media at the White House and advocated “the basic principle of making sure everyone pays their fair share”.
He said the Panama Papers had exposed the intricate web of loopholes that exist to enable the world’s wealthiest individuals to avoid paying taxes.
“A lot of these loopholes come at the expense of middle-class families, because that lost revenue has to be made up somewhere,” he said.