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ARGENTINA | 21-06-2018 11:35

Macri brothers, Messi caught up in new Panama Papers scandal

Leaked documents reveal the origins of funds that the Macri brothers brought back to Argentina under the tax amnesty programme their brother, President Mauricio Macri, implemented in 2016. Lionel Messi and his father also feature in the new Panama Papers investigation.

The offshore financial activity of President Mauricio Macri’s brothers, Gianfranco and Mariano, is raising eyebrows in Argentina, after a new Panama Papers investigation exposed questionable financial activities related to the duo.

The investigation also uncovered information about the offshore activity of Argentina national football team captain Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, who the investigation reveals lied about the activity of a secretive Panama-based firm, just days after a Spanish court found them guilty of tax evasion to the tune of 4.1 million euros.

The leaked documents relate to the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca, which has since shuttered its doors. The new information was discovered among the cache of Panama Papers leaks and was reported in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared its source material among the more than 100 media outlets that work with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Local outlets including the Perfil newspaper, La Nación and Infobae – who all employ journalists that are part of the ICIJ – published stories yesterday about the documents and what they reveal. 

In the leaked e-mails, PDFs and documents, Gianfranco and Mariano Macri are exposed as the true owners of the Panama-based offshore firm BF Corporation SA, whose financial assets – worth approximately US$4 million – were moved from a UBS bank account in Hamburg, Germany, to one in Switzerland held by the banking firm Safra, just six days before Mauricio Macri became president in 2015. 

That transaction alerted German authorities, who reported the transaction to their Argentine counterpart PROCELAC (Ombudsman’s Office for Economic Crime and Money Laundering). Tellingly, the leaked Panama Papers documents show that BF Corporation’s representatives in Uruguay – who acted as an intermediary in the transaction – had previously requested “the destruction of any documentation” related to the firm and its UBS bank account.

The Macri family’s Socma Group in Argentina confirmed to ICIJ journalists that Gianfranco and Mariano were the true owners of BF Corporation (holding 50 percent of the firm's each) but indicated that the funds deposited in Germany belonged solely to Gianfranco Macri. They also confirmed that the money was indeed moved to Switzerland.

Later, in December 22, 2016, Gianfranco Macri informed the AFIP tax agency that he was the owner of BF Corporation and held previously undeclared assets overseas. He then returned the funds to Argentina under the tax amnesty (blanqueo) scheme implemented by the Mauricio Macri administration.

BF CORPORATION

BF Corporation was created in 2009 by Mossack Fonseca, the Panama law firm whose archives form the basis of the Panama Papers leaks. Following that scandal, the firm tried to normalise its ties with BF Corporation SA by obtaining information about the identities of BF Corporation's true owners. 

Mossack Fonseca contacted the firm’s representatives — Lussich Torrendell & Asociados, based in Uruguay — but the Uruguayans failed to report back, saying only on April 18, 2016 that they would inform their “clients” about the request and revert back to Mossack Fonseca “when we have a response.” 

The leaked documents reveal Lussich Torrendell & Asociados’ Santiago Lussich as the key link between the Macris and BF Corporation, with which Mossack Fonseca cut ties in April 2016.

MESSI

Football superstar Lionel Messi and his father Jorge Horacio are also included in the new investigation into the Paper Paper leaks. Documents reveal Messi’s Panama-based offshore firm Mega Star Enterprise Inc was in fact in use, despite Jorge Messi’s claims to the contrary in April, 2016..

“On June 13, 2003, just one day after finding out they had evaded 4.1 million euros in taxes, the player and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, used the Uruguayan law firm [Balmaren SA] to create a Panama-based company,” Spanish newspaper El Confidencial reported at the time.

“A totally inactive company that never had funds or open current accounts,” was how the Messi family described Mega Star Enterprises following those revelations to the ICIJ. But according to Mossack Fonseca, the firm was in fact “active” in 2016. (The Public Registry in Panamá reported that the company remains active to this day.)

As was the case with the BF Corporation, Mossack Fonseca tried to normalise its ties with Mega Star Enterprises following the Panama Papers scandal, requesting that Balmaren SA provide information about the identity of the firm's true owner, proof of residency and a certified copy of the passport of the owner [Messi’s father], among other documents.

Messi’s representatives in Uruguay reported on May 25, 2016, in an email to Mossack Fonseca that “yes, the client is using the account,” however no further information about the client was provided.

In June 2016, Mossack Fonseca formally ended its ties with Mega Star Enterprises, reporting the offshore firm in a Suspect Operation Report (ROS) to Panamá’s Financial Analysis Unit (UAF).

Lionel Messi was handed a 21-month suspended sentence and fined US$2.2 million in July 2016, after being convicted of tax fraud.

Reporting by Emilia Delfino and Sandra Crucianelli for Perfil

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