Argentina's Macri fights back after call for 'Panama Papers' probe

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Thursday he had nothing to hide regarding his links with an offshore company revealed by the “Panama Papers,” after a federal prosecutor called for an investigation.

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Macri is among scores of politicians and business figures internationally named in documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in setting up offshore companies.

The son of an Italian-born business tycoon, Macri has said he was not legally obliged to declare his connection with the offshore company named in the “Panama Papers” as he never had a stake in it.

The president said he was simply director of the Bahamas-based company, Fleg Trading Ltd., now closed, which was created by his father to make investments in Brazil.

Critics say he owes a more thorough explanation of this and his alleged connection with another offshore company, Kagemusha SA, registered in Panama, given that such firms are often used to launder money and evade taxes.

“I have acted in accordance with the law and have nothing to hide,” Macri said in a televised news conference.

He said he would on Friday ask a court to certify his declaration of assets in order to clear up any doubts.

Macri also said he would put all his assets in a blind trust while president, a measure designed to prevent conflict of interest and generate transparency in the administration of his business interests.

State prosecutor Federico Delgado asked the judiciary earlier on Thursday to investigate if Macri’s failure to declare his connection with the offshore company meant he had “maliciously failed to complete his tax declaration”, a crime which carries a sentence of 15 days to two years.

The case was assigned to Judge Sebastián Casanello, who must now decide if there is sufficient evidence to open a probe.

Macri’s appearance in the Panama Papers and the way his administration has handled the matter has cast some doubts over his 2015 campaign pledge to fight corruption.

The head of the Argentine anti-corruption office, Laura Alonso, a member of Macri’s party, swiftly defended Macri after the leak emerged, saying that creating a company in a tax haven was not a crime.

Opposition lawmakers called for her resignation on grounds her job was to root out corruption, not defend the president.

Additional reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Andrew Hay