Puerto Rico Implicated in Panama Papers Leak

Sector financiero de San Juan, ciudad capital de Puerto Rico.

The financial sector in Puerto Rico's capital San Juan, popularly known as la Milla de Oro [the Golden Mile] is also suffering repercussions following the document leak from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Photo by Thief12/Carlo Giovanetti via Wikimedia Commons. Used under licence CC BY-SA 3.0.

Puerto Rico has not remained unscathed following the revelation of leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, involving a number of people from the higher echelons of global society.

The Centro de Periodismo Investigativo de Puerto Rico [the Center for Investigative Journalism] has identified several Puerto Rican clients of the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among these are Galephar Puerto Rico Limited, GlobalTek Puerto Rico Ltd., Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and Omega Engineering.

Omega Engineering began a controversial construction project, known as the Paseo de Puerta de Tierra, a continuous beach walk linking the Condado Peninsula with the Puerta de Tierra district at the entrance to Old San Juan Island, the historic sector of Puerto Rico's capital. The project was, however, abandoned in early March due to insufficient funds needed for its completion. Panama's Supreme Court accused the president and managing director of Omega Engineering, Oscar Iván Rivera, of participating in a money laundering scheme.

The Mossack Fonseca scandal has also implicated Ramón Luis Ayala, the reggaeton singer better known as Daddy Yankee, whose name appears among the leaked documents as the owner of the offshore company Arion Investments LLC. This company was allegedly used to launder money, as highlighted by the investigation led by the Centro del Periodismo Investigatorio.

Reactions to the Mossack Fonseca revelations have generally been that of surprise and indignation. However, Francisco J. Concepción argues in the online magazine El Post Antillano, that for the most part, this has not gone further than to call for greater responsibility and accountability within the economic system. According to Concepción, this reduces the matter to nothing more than the condemnation of individual acts of corruption: in other words, a merely moral concern. He also urged people to delve deeper into the implications, both in terms of the contents of the documents, as well as what they omitted.

…[H]ay que acercarse críticamente a este tema considerando que detrás de la publicación de los papeles hay, también, poderes geopolíticos que tienen intereses bien claros al respecto de los mismos. Desde esta perspectiva debemos preguntarnos sobre las razones para que Estados Unidos esté ausente de estos documentos. También debemos considerar cómo es que la publicación de estos documentos incide en las relaciones geopolíticas actuales. Si bien es cierto que los contenidos de los documentos son importantes a la hora de comprender cómo la oligarquía internacional funciona, es necesario estudiarlos considerando que los mismos podrían ser, también, un instrumento ideológico al servicio de los verdaderos poderes económicos globales.

We need to approach this matter critically and consider that, behind the publication of these papers, there are geopolitical powers at play with very clear interests. From this perspective, we need to ask ourselves why the United States does not appear in these documents. We should also consider how these documents will affect current geopolitical relations. Although it's clear that their contents are crucial to understanding how the international oligarchy works, it is necessary to analyze these documents, as they could also serve as an ideological instrument for the real economic global powers.

In an article for the same magazine, Carlos Pérez Morales warns that not everybody linked to the Mossack Fonseca law firm necessarily had the intention to engage in tax evasion:

La mera mención de un nombre en esos papeles, no significa que la persona sea corrupta. En Panamá son legales las corporaciones “offshore”. Podemos decir que muchas de ellas funcionan como corporaciones legítimas. Como resultado de esta revelación se ha lacerado la imagen de la nación y se esperan grandes consecuencias económicas.

Just because somebody is named in these documents, it does not mean that person is corrupt. In Panama, offshore companies are legal. We can say that many of them function as perfectly legitimate corporations. The country's image has been damaged and significant economic repercussions are expected as a result of these revelations.

Following this same logic, in an opinion article for Global Voices’ The Bridge, Roy Rojas asks how many people are being unfairly judged by public opinion:

Más que claro es el deseo de transparencia para que todos aquellos que evaden impuestos queden al descubierto. Pero surge la pregunta de si se estará dañando a inocentes en este proceso. ¿Nombres de empresarios y abogados éticos están siendo atacados injustamente? Los periodistas que están al frente de estas revelaciones deben ser extremadamente cuidadosos y responsables: deben validar todas las fuentes antes de publicar el nombre de una persona en un lugar donde no se borra nunca la información.

The widespread desire for transparency around the issue of tax evasion is completely understandable. Nonetheless, the question arises as to whether innocent people are being hurt as a result of this process. Are the good names of ethical business people and lawyers being unjustly attacked? Journalists on the front lines of reporting these revelations must be extremely careful and responsible: they should be carefully validating all sources before publishing the somebody’s name in this place where information lives forever.

Considering the media frenzy triggered by the release of these documents from Mossack Fonseca, he concludes that:

Estos ejemplos reafirman que el periodista juega un rol muy importante en la formación de la opinión pública. Por meses estaremos escuchando de nuevas revelaciones, unas serán a primera vista ciertas, otras necesitarán alguna explicación legal. Los que se consideran ofendidos deberán dar la cara y explicar por qué sus nombres están vinculados con las publicaciones. Si son inocentes de todo, solo el tiempo y las autoridades de cada país lo indicarán así. Pero algunos de los inocentes probablemente no podrán limpiar su nombre completamente en la corte de la opinión pública, y ese es el problema.

These examples reaffirm the important role journalists play in shaping public opinion, not to mention history. In the months ahead, new information will certainly be disclosed. Some of it will be able to be accepted at face value; some of it will need a legal explanation. Those who are offended at being named should come forward and explain why their names are linked to the publication. If they are completely innocent, time and the authorities in each country will reveal this to be the case. For some of the innocent, however, it is likely that they will not be able to clear their names completely in the court of public opinion, and therein lies the problem.

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