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El Salvador Raids Mossack Fonseca Offices as Panama Papers Fallout Continues

The controversial law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers leak had computers and documents seized during a raid on its offices in El Salvador's capital.

by Tess Owen
Apr 9 2016, 2:45pm

Photo by Oscar Rivera/EPA

The founding partner of Mossack Fonseca, the controversial law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers leak, says the company has not yet been approached by any investigators, but a recent raid in El Salvador could be a sign that authorities may soon come calling at the firm's headquarters in Panama City.

El Salvador's attorney general's office announced on Twitter that government agents seized numerous computers and documents during a Friday raid on Mossack Fonseca's offices in the capital San Salvador. In a press conference, Attorney General Douglas Melendez said officials became suspicious after Mossack Fonseca removed the sign from its office door late on Thursday evening. Managers of the law firm's El Salvador bureau contend they removed the sign because they were moving to a new office location.

"At this moment we cannot speak about (any) crimes; all we can do at this moment is our job," said Melendez.

Related: The VICE News Guide to the Panama Papers

Salvadoran authorities said they were looking to confirm whether any of the country's citizens had opened accounts or incorporated companies with Mossack Fonseca. El Faro, a local news site, reported earlier this week that Mossack Fonseca incorporated more than 220 offshore companies in El Salvador between 2000 and 2015, and that at least 33 of their clients during that time were Salvadoran. The report contended that Salvadorans were using Mossack Fonseca's services to avoid having to report their assets to the government. Last year, El Salvador signed an agreement to join the international fight against tax evasion.

The first batch of the Panama Papers were released last weekend, exposing a vast network of offshore operations used by the global elite to dodge taxes, circumvent economic sanctions, and hoard wealth. An anonymous source sent 11.5 million confidential documents from Mossack Fonseca to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared the trove with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The files have unearthed links between Mossack Fonseca and Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Ukraine's president, members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, and many others. Iceland's prime minister stepped aside after the leak exposed his undisclosed offshore assets. British Prime Minister David Cameron is also facing calls to resign after it was revealed that he may have profited from his father's offshore investment fund.

In a recent interview with the German newspaper Bild, Mossack Fonseca's founding partner Ramon Fonseca said that the firm had not been approached by anyone as part of an investigation."We're the ones who have filed a complaint with the authorities," Fonseca said. "Every time there's something in the newspaper, the authorities announce they'll launch investigations. We're fully cooperating but we haven't been contacted by anyone yet."

Related: Why Us? Panamanians Are Pissed That They're Associated With the Panama Papers

Fonseca told Reuters on Tuesday that the leak was not the work of an insider whistleblower as initially speculated, but rather the result of an external hack. Fonseca said he knows the hacker's country of origin, but did not disclose that information.

Fonseca, who is also a bestselling novelist and until recently served as a top adviser to the Panamanian president, has adamantly insisted through various statements that Mossack Fonseca's business is completely legal, and noted that many other companies deal in offshore accounts.

"We see it like the biblical story of David and Goliath," Fonseca told Bild. "Everyone has a right to privacy. Perhaps God chose us to fight for this fundamental human right of perhaps I'm mistaken."

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen