With media attention squarely falling on the foreigners exposed by the Panama Papers offshore tax haven scandal, everyone has been asking for more information on who are the Americans involved in this biggest data leak in history. After all, as we showed, Mossack Fonseca had over 400 American clients. But who are they?
Today, courtesy of McClatchy, we get some answers: while there are no politicians of note are in files but plenty of others. Among them: Retirees, scammers, and tax evaders, all of whom found a use for secrecy of offshore companies.
As the news paper reports, "the passports of at least 200 Americans show up in this week’s massive leak of secret data on secretive offshore shell companies."
And yet, the following release may prompt merely more questions: given the high-profile nature of some of the foreign names in the leaks "many of the Americans may seem like small fish."
Perhaps few Americans used Panama to hide their shady dealings; perhaps that was as intended.
Determining a precise number of Americans in the data is difficult. There are at least 200 scanned individual U.S. passports. Some appear to be American retirees purchasing real estate in places like Costa Rica and Panama. Also in the database, about 3,500 shareholders of offshore companies who list U.S. addresses. And almost 3,100 companies are tied to offshore professionals based in Miami, New York, and other parts of the United States.
Further complicating matters, some U.S. citizens enjoy dual citizenship and open accounts under foreign passports. Others appeared to be American retirees purchasing real estate in places like Costa Rica and Panama.
Among the cases McClatchy and its partners found:
Robert Miracle of Bellevue, Wash., is in the files. He was indicted for a $65-million Seattle-area Ponzi scheme involving investment in Indonesian oilfields, with new investors’ money allegedly used to pay off past investors. Miracle was sentenced on May 13, 2011, to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion.
Miracle’s company was called Mcube Petroleum, and it remained an active shareholder in several offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands up until he pleaded guilty. The offshores were created by Mossack Fonseca.
Benjamin Wey is a U.S. citizen and president of New York Global Group. He was indicted last year, along with his Swiss banker, Seref Dogan Erbek, on securities fraud charges. Wey’s alleged scheme to conceal a true ownership interest in publicly traded companies was at the heart of the charges. Wey is accused of using offshores set up with Mossack Fonseca to disguise complicated transactions between Chinese operating companies and publicly traded U.S. shell companies.
The two “are believed to have profited in the tens of millions, while victim shareholders were left holding the bill,” Diego Rodriguez, an FBI official involved in the case, said in a statement at the time of indictment.
Florida billionaire Igor Olenicoff, a commercial real estate mogul, appears in the data as a shareholder of Olen Oil Management Limited. He raised a national stir in 2007 after being sentenced to just two years of probation for tax evasion. He paid a $52 million fine after not declaring more than $200 million in offshore shell companies. More recently, he was found guilty in 2014 for making replicas of a pricey sculpture and was ordered to make restitution to the sculptors whose work he had copied.
There’s Anthony J. Gumbiner, the Dallas-area chairman of Hallwood Group Inc. He’s a British national with deep Texas ties who settled an insider trading case in 1996 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, paying $1.7 million in penalties at the time.
A jetsetter in the 1980s, Gumbiner was known for his lavish lifestyle in Monte Carlo. More recently, he’s been tied up in litigation over oilfield investments. His Hallwood Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the law firm seemed to catch on to Gumbiner’s legal problems and started to conduct enhanced background checks. By then his offshore companies had been inactive since 2011.
And there’s John Michael “Red” Crim, author of the self-published books “From Here to Malta,” and “I’ve Been Arrested, Now What?”
Federal jurors in Philadelphia in January 2008 convicted Crim and two associates in a plot to have investors use phony trusts to cheat the IRS out of roughly $10 million in tax revenue.
In an interview with McClatchy's project partner Fusion, at a halfway house in Los Angeles last February, Crim described how he brought business to Mossack Fonseca and other registered corporate agents.
"My responsibility is to set-up the documentation, hand it over to the client, and now they're in business," Crim said. "I don't even know sometimes what that business is about, and I didn't want to spend all my time investigating what they're doing. I mean, some of (them) just flat out would tell you it was none of your business."
In a separate case, federal authorities were unaware that a defendant in a fraud case had an offshore account with Mossack Fonseca. Internet phone company executive Jonathan Kaplan pleaded guilty in Bridgeport, Conn., in 2007 to accepting more than $400,000 in a commercial bribery scheme.
Kaplan received probation. A law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of pending legal matters, confirmed that prosecutors did not know that Kaplan had established an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands in 2004 called SGA Wireless. It remained active until May 2010.
Reached by phone in New Jersey, Kaplan was asked whether he told authorities about SGA Wireless. He stammered, “I’m going to have to decline. I’ll talk to you.” He then abruptly hung up.
* * *
As we said, the surprising lack of any high profile names could merely stoke speculation of list scrubbing, or alternatively, we hope it will force the broader population to shift its attention to the true real locus of "offshore tax evasion", perhaps the biggest in the world: the United States of America itself.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.
© EconMatters All Rights Reserved | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Email Digest | Kindle