The offices of the firm at the centre of the Panama Papers revelations were raided by police officers on Tuesday as investigators prepared to meet in Paris to launch an unprecedented inquiry into global tax evasion.
Panama’s attorney general ordered the raid on the Panamanian offices of Mossack Fonseca in an attempt to “establish the use of the firm for illicit activities”.
Police entered the company’s building under the command of the prosecutor Javier Caravallo, who specialises in organised crime and money laundering.
The raid comes after the leak of Mossack Fonseca’s huge database provoked international concern about the offshore industry. It occurred on the eve of a meeting in Paris of senior officials from the world’s tax authorities, who are intent on analysing the documents as part of new global strategy to crack down on offenders.
The aggressive new approach is being led by the Joint International Tax Shelter Information and Collaboration (Jitsic) network, of which the UK is a leading member.
A spokesman for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) confirmed that it would be sending delegates to the Paris conference.
Jitsic’s chairman, Chris Jordan, has previously spoken of establishing a “global mindset for tackling tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance”.
Jordan, who is Australia’s tax commissioner, has established a reputation for his direct approach to multinational companies over their tax affairs.
The meeting in Paris will be chaired by the Australian tax office’s head of international tax, Mark Konza.
Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing, saying it only set up offshore financial accounts and anonymous shell companies for clients and was not involved in how those accounts were used.
On Monday intellectual property prosecutors visited Mossack Fonseca to investigate the firm’s claim that its computers were hacked before the leak.
“Finally the real criminals are being investigated,” Roman Fonseca, the firm’s founding partner, told AP. He has yet to comment on the attorney general’s raid.
The Panama-based firm is the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm. It specialises in incorporating companies in offshore jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands.
Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, has defended the country’s financial sector, which is considered vital to the country’s economy. But Varela has also promised the international community that he is willing to make reforms to make the sector more transparent.
On Tuesday he met legal, banking and business professional associations and asked France to reconsider its decision to place Panama on a list of uncooperative countries in financial information.
The Panama government announced that Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Nobel prize in economics in 2001, would be one member of an international panel formed to review Panama’s legal and financial practices and recommend improvements.
Last week the UN’s independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, stressed the need to end tax secrecy.
“Tax evasion destroys trust in public institutions and the rule of law, and shrinks the fiscal space for investing in public healthcare, education, social security and other goods and services,” he said.
“Public funds that are essential to guarantee economic, social and cultural rights to all are robbed from the people.”