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panama ripples

Criminal enquiry into offshore activities launched in Geneva

The Geneva public prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation in connection with the Panama Papers, after the leak from law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed a Swiss connection.

The 11.5 million files – mainly emails and PDFs of contracts – reveal the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials from around the world. They showed that lawyers and institutions in Geneva have set up numerous offshore companies for private clients.

“The Attorney General’s Office believed in certain specific cases there was a risk that criminal offences may have been committed,” Olivier Jornot, Geneva's chief prosecutor told Swiss public television, RTS on Thursday. The investigation was started on Wednesday.

“Consequently, I decided to open a procedure which will involve checks on the people concerned to see whether there is proof of violations of the Penal Code.”

Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands are among countries that have already started inquiries.

The public prosecutor went on to say that in terms of the range of offences that may have been committed, one is forgery of documents. Although it could be the case that other crimes have been committed, Jornot added, “we don’t have specific proof right now”. The prosecutor’s office will be going through “mostly old evidence”, and checking up on the details.

Swiss reaction

Mark Branson, the chief executive of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) said at the regulator’s annual press conference on Thursday, “the Panama Papers have made for very interesting reading for all of us. But it has only been a few days since this information came to light so it would be too early to talk about enforcement actions.”

Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS said earlier this week that were only interested in lawful assets and funds that come from lawful activities.

Back in February 2015, the Geneva Public Prosecutor carried out a raid at the Swiss branch of HSBC, looking for evidence of suspected money laundering after revelations made by the Swiss-leaks. The investigation came to a close when CHF40 million ($41.8 million) was paid in compensation to local authorities with no admittance of guilt.

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