Lack of original documents may hit govt’s Panama probe

  • Suchetana Ray, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 27, 2016 12:41 IST
A police officer stands outside Mossack Fonseca law firm, in Panama City. (AP Photo)

The government’s probe of the Panama papers expose has hit a roadblock.

According to top sources in the government, the biggest challenge is to get hold of the original documents. India does not have any treaty for sharing information with Panama, and appeals for data from the organisations behind the expose have so far not yielded any results.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in association with news organisations, such as The Indian Express, exposed a series of documents showing how prominent politicians and celebrities across the world diverted money to avoid taxes through Mossack Fonseca, a Panamian law firm.

The government has already formed a ‘multi agency group’ of various investigative agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Reserve Bank of India, to probe the expose. Questionnaires have been sent to all the Indians named in the Panama papers. “But we cannot proceed with investigations or prosecutions unless we get access to the original documents from Mossack Fonseca,” said a government official in the know of the matter, who did not wish to be named.

Despite not having any information-sharing treaty, Panama has assured India of help with documents from Mossack Fonseca. Panamian authorities have already raided the law firm, but to go through its transactions and client details since it was set up in 1986 would take a lot of time. “Panama is acutely aware of this, it does not have the manpower needed to scrutinise the millions of documents that are with Mossack Fonseca and then give the relevant data to India,” the source quoted earlier said.

A finance ministry official said the government has requested The Indian Express for the documents at their disposal that formed the basis of their investigation. “So far there has been no response from them” the official said.

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