PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - The head of a Panama-based law firm at the center of a massive leak of offshore financial data on Sunday denied any wrongdoing, and said his firm has fallen victim to “an international campaign against privacy”.
German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it received a cache of 11.5 million leaked documents from the law firm’s database, and shared them with more than 100 other international news outlets as well as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Ramon Fonseca, the director of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, specialized in setting up offshore companies, said in a telephone interview with Reuters that his firm had suffered a successful but “limited” hack.
Fonseca, the firm’s co-founder and until March a senior government official in Panama, said his firm has formed more than 240,000 companies, adding that the “vast majority” had been used for “legitimate purposes”.
The ICIJ report published on Sunday details billions of dollars of financial transactions moved through numerous offshore accounts.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper said the documents showed a network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion led to close friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin dismissed the report as aiming to discredit Putin ahead of parliamentary elections.
Fonseca emphasized that the firm was not responsible for the activities of the companies it incorporates.
“We’re dedicated to making legal structures which we sell to intermediaries such as banks, lawyers, accountants and trusts, and they have their end-customers that we don’t know,” said Fonseca.
He said that all of the firm’s clients had been notified of “this problem”, arguing that the firm has been caught up in an international anti-privacy campaign.
“We believe there’s an international campaign against privacy. Privacy is a sacred human right (but) there are people in the world who do not understand that and we definitely believe in privacy and will continue working so that legal privacy can work,” he said.
The law firm said in a separate statement published by the Guardian: “It appears that you have had unauthorized access to proprietary documents and information taken from our company and have presented and interpreted them out of context.”
When asked for reaction to the comments from the law firm about the source of the documents, an anti-privacy campaign and the accusation that the information had been interpreted out of context, a spokeswoman for Guardian News & Media said:
“The files were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).”
“The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian,” the spokeswoman said by email. “Mossack Fonseca was contacted prior to publication and we have published their response in full.”
Panama’s government said in a statement on Sunday that it would cooperate with any eventual judicial proceeding relating to the allegations in the report.
Reporting by Elida Moreno; Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Simon Gardner, Mary Milliken and Alison Williams