BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine prosecutor on Thursday asked a judge to open an investigation into President Mauricio Macri’s connection with offshore companies as revealed by the “Panama Papers” leak which has shone a light on the financial schemes of the world’s elite.
A leak of four decades of documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in setting up offshore companies, has triggered similar investigations across the world.
Macri, who won last year’s election partly on promises to root out corruption, has said he was not legally obliged to declare his connection with the offshore company named in the “Panama Papers” as he never had a stake in it.
The president said he was simply director of the Bahamas-based company, Fleg Trading Ltd., now closed, which was created by his tycoon father to make investments in Brazil.
Critics say he owes a more thorough explanation of this and his alleged connection with another offshore company, Kagemusha SA”, registered in Panama, given that such firms are often used to launder money and evade taxes.
“As a first step, it is necessary to check if Mauricio Macri maliciously failed to complete his tax declaration,” state prosecutor Federico Delgado wrote in his appeal to Judge Sebastián Casanello, noting this was a crime which carries a sentence of 15 days to two years.
Casanello must now decide if there is sufficient evidence to open an investigation. Asked about the prosecutor’s request, a government spokesman said Macri had already made it clear he had committed no wrongdoing.
Norman Darío Martínez, a lawmaker for the opposition Front for Victory party, instigated the case.
“Macri’s participation as director and vicepresident of two companies in the Bahamas and Panama is clear, proved and admitted, and these places are tax havens that are usually used for money laundering and tax evasion,” he told broadcaster C5N.
The millions of leaked documents implicated scores of politicians and business figures internationally and the case already forced one head of state, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, to step down.
Argentine opposition lawmakers are calling for the resignation of the head of the Argentine anti-corruption office, Laura Alonso. Alonso is a member of Macri’s party and swiftly defended the president after the Panama Papers emerged, saying that creating a company in a tax haven was not a crime.
“She came out immediately defending the president when her role is to investigate whether an act of corruption was carried out,” the Front for Victory said in a statement.
Additional reporting and writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Andrew Hay