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Mossack created bespoke shell companies, often located in international tax havens like the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Bahamas, for wealthy clients looking to house assets in secret. Transactions generally occurred through a series of intermediaries to protect the anonymity of the client and to give the firm plausible deniability of any wrongdoing that may arise from the secret accounts.It’s important to note that setting up a shell company in a tax haven through an intermediary isn’t, in itself, illegal. But, what happened in many (but not all) of these accounts certainly was. In its own defense, Mossack claims that it complies with anti-money-laundering laws and seeks to cast the blame at the feet of the lawyers, banks and accountants who acted as intermediaries. Does this herald the end of offshore accounts? The reality is that ever since the financial crisis, the offshore wealth management sector has been reckoning with the decline of client anonymity and has largely shifted into other areas. So, while the contents of the leak are shocking, they’re also based on a somewhat outdated paradigm and in a sense it’s old news to those in the industry.Andrew Haslip, Verdict Financial’s Head of Content in Asia-Pacific for Private Wealth Management wrote, “[T]he leak is not likely to significantly impact the offshore wealth management sector. Offshore wealth managers have been dealing with the decline in client anonymity for quite some time, and the Panama Papers are simply the biggest leak to date. Ever since automatic disclosure became the standard in the wake of the financial crisis, the industry has been transitioning away from client anonymity as an impetus for investing offshore.”Nuri Katz, president of Apex Capital Partners, Corp., sees the outrage as a case of willful ignorance: “I’m baffled by the surprise over this. These tax havens are part of the U.K. Of course everyone knew what was going on.”As world governments, hungry for tax revenue, have increasingly taken aim at wealthy citizens attempting to hide their assets offshore, financial transparency programs, like FATCA and the Common Reporting Standard, have eroded the appeal of the once-ubiquitous numbered Swiss account.Katz believes that, “This leak shows that client confidentiality is basically no longer available.”

Source: What Do The Panama Papers Mean for Offshore Wealth Management?

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David R. Duringer, JD, LL.M, is a concealed firearm instructor and tax lawyer specializing in business and estate planning; licensed to practice law in the states of California and Washington. He is managing shareholder at Protective Law Corporation, serving Southern California from its Laguna Hills (Orange County) headquarters and a satellite office in Coronado (San Diego County).

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