Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Panama seized dozens of computer servers belonging to the Panama Papers law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The prosecutors might be investigating whether Mossack Fonseca violated money laundering laws when it supposedly helped clients hide assets offshore. A U.S. State Department report published last month analyzed how money is laundered in Panama. The report said:
Money is laundered via bulk cash and trade by exploiting vulnerabilities at the airport, using commercial cover and free trade zones (FTZs), and exploiting the lack of regulatory monitoring in many sectors of the economy. The protection of client secrecy is often stronger than authorities’ ability to pierce the corporate veil to pursue an investigation. (U.S. Department of State International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for Panama, March 2016)
Money can also be laundered in Panama by putting shell companies to work, the same way shell companies are used to launder money in other parts of the world. Assets may be secretly transferred to a shell company &/or a shell company may be used to open a secret offshore bank account. In these situations, the shell companies may act as laundering links which wash assets in a money laundering circuit.
Mossack Fonseca was apparently in the business of establishing shell companies. Businesses that establish shell companies are usually called “nominee incorporation services,” as mentioned by the November 9, 2006 advisory from U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The advisory essentially reveals that shell companies & nominee incorporation services can be a money laundering risk. The webpages of Panama Offshore Worldwide demonstrate the way one nominee incorporation service works.
At “Anonymous Panama Corporation” &/or “Panama Bank Secrecy,” Panama Offshore Worldwide seems to describe how you can open a secret offshore bank account by titling the account in the name of a Panamanian shell company. Panama Offshore Worldwide indicates that if you want additional anonymity, you should staff your Panama corporation with nominee directors (i.e. stand-ins/intermediaries):
We provide nominee directors for the corporation, so your name is not actually registered in the government’s documents and therefore cannot be traced back to you. The corporation is controlled with shares, which are registered by date at a notary and not accessible online like the directors of a corporation. (Panama Offshore Worldwide’s “Panama Bank Secrecy” Webpage. Web. April 16, 2016.)
Copyright Fred L. Abrams 2016