El Salvador’s attorney general personally oversaw a raid Friday on the local office of Mossack Fonseca, the global, Panama-based law firm at the center of the largest-ever leak of data exposing the use of offshore companies by many of the world’s rich and powerful.
The raid took place after authorities noticed that the office, which is not listed on Mossack Fonseca’s corporate website, had taken down its office sign late Thursday, raising suspicion that led authorities to react.
“I have to comply [with my duty] as attorney general to investigate such incidents,” Attorney General Douglas Meléndez said. “That does not mean that all these companies are illegal or are corrupt,” he added, referring to entities that have used Mossack Fonseca’s tax-haven services.
The authorities seized about 20 computers and interviewed employees working for the Panama-based firm with offices worldwide. An employee said they were moving offices, Meléndez said. No arrests were made. The attorney general’s office said on its Twitter feed that Mossack Fonseca’s field office in San Salvador processed information for clients worldwide.
The actions come as governments worldwide are investigating if any financial laws were broken by the people who were exposed Sunday in the leak of 11.5 million Panama Papers documents to a group of news organizations that have been examining the trove and dribbling out stories over the past week.
The papers hold 40 years’ worth of data about the law firm’s relationship with clients that sought its help in setting up offshore companies. While the process is itself legal, it can be used to dodge taxes and launder money. These shelters can also mask the people behind major purchases, allowing public officials to own lavish properties and other high- value assets without public scrutiny. The leader of a poor country, for example, could use these shelters to mask incriminating wealth, such as high-end real estate in Europe or the United States.
The leak has already taken down Iceland’s prime minister, who was forced to resign after public outrage over an offshore company he and his wife had sent up in the British Virgin Islands.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron is facing calls for a government inquiry after he admitted to once owning shares in an offshore fund set up by his late father. On Friday, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Cameron to address the issue in Parliament on Monday.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is fighting opposition calls for his resignation after the papers exposed his children’s links to offshore companies.