Author: Azizur Rahman
31 August 2016
2 min read
The initial controversy surrounding Mossack Fonseca lasted for many months. But the lessons that can be learnt should not be forgotten.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the non-profit news organisation that broke the Panama Papers scandal, put the formerly confidential documents online. This online database contains information on almost 320,000 offshore companies that have used the services of the now infamous Panamanian law firm.
According to the ICIJ, the data covers the period from 1975 to 2015 and has links to people and companies in more than 200 countries and territories.
The ICIJ’s decision to put everything online came weeks after Panamanian investigators carried out their second raid on the Mossack Fonseca offices; reportedly taking away bags full of shredded documents as evidence. This indicated one thing: the thoroughness of the authorities when they feel they are on to business crime.
Leaks from the Panama-based law firm brought unwanted attention to a number of world figures and put tax evasion firmly back on the business agenda. The right legal representation will be vital for anyone implicated in the creation of tax evasion schemes - failure to act in a strategic and appropriate manner may make you less able to counter investigators’ allegations.
Our experience in tax evasion cases means that we are familiar with the way investigators work: what they are looking for and how they go about finding it. When it comes to obtaining legal representation in such cases, solicitors who know exactly what “the other side’’ is planning to do should be appointed.
Legal expertise has to be used to determine what action should be taken once there is even the slightest hint of an investigation or charge. The right defence case has to utilise all possible available evidence – whether being used by the prosecution or not – in order to establish that the person under suspicion worked with the best of intentions and in a way that can be shown to be in line with good professional practice.
The whole Mossack Fonseca incident serves as a reminder of the need to make sure that all relevant material is retained and accessible if a premises is raided. This is not merely because it may assist the defence: if investigators come searching for it and it is not available, the punishments for destroying, moving or concealing evidence can be severe.
Raids are carried out for the primary purpose of securing material which could form the basis of a prosecution. Failure to follow legal guidelines can make a difficult situation much worse.
As a firm that has had many clients contact us after an unannounced raid on their premises, we understand that it can feel like a major intrusion on you personally and a disruption to you professionally. But we also know that, with the right legal approach and expertise in the field of raids and the relevant search warrants, there are often grounds for stopping a raid – or at least the seizure of material that results from it – in its tracks. This is regardless of how many bags of documents may be taken away in raids, as was the case at Mossack Fonseca.
Some of those working for the authorities carrying out raids are not always expert enough in this area of the law and are sometimes reluctant to seek appropriate advice from an external source. As a result, the warrants that are drafted are sometimes inappropriate or the full facts are not disclosed to a court when applying for permission to carry out a raid. Such circumstances can offer a defence team opportunities to challenge the raid’s validity and the ability of investigators to seize, retain and use certain material.
Aziz Rahman is Senior Partner at Rahman Ravelli and its founder. His ability to coordinate national, international and multi-agency defences has led to success in some of the most significant corporate crime cases of this century and top rankings in international legal guides. He is recognised worldwide as one of the most capable legal experts regarding top-level, high-value commercial and financial disputes.