Mossack Fonseca-branded firm operating from Hitchin offices amid global investigation into 'Panama papers' leak
PUBLISHED: 08:27 07 April 2016 | UPDATED: 13:46 07 April 2016
Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca - which is facing a global investigation amid accusations that it has helped the rich and powerful to evade taxes, dodge sanctions and launder money offshore - has a UK office operating under the same name in Hitchin.
Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd has had Invision House in Wilbury Way listed with Companies House as its address since October 2002, and the same address was the registered premises for dissolved Mossack Fonseca-branded firms directed at Canada and Eastern Europe.
Controversy has erupted following the unprecedented leak from the Panama-based company of 11.5 million documents, the so-called ‘Panama papers’, which were the focus of Monday night’s BBC Panorama programme on tax havens.
The leak reveals, among other things, that proceeds of the infamous Brink’s-Mat robbery at Heathrow in 1983 may have been laundered through a firm set up by Mossack Fonseca of Panama.
The Panama papers also suggest that David Cameron’s late father Ian set up a Bahamas-based multi-million pound investment fund in 1982 that avoided paying British tax for decades by hiring Bahamas residents to sign its paperwork.
Mossack Fonseca of Panama’s response to the accusations:
“We provide company incorporation and related administrative services that are widely available and commonly used worldwide.
“For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and other jurisdictions where we have operations.
“Our services are regulated on multiple levels, often by overlapping agencies, and we have a strong compliance record.
“We are not involved in managing our clients’ companies. Excluding the professional fees we earn, we do not take possession or custody of clients’ money, or have anything to do with any of the direct financial aspects related to operating their businesses.
“We regret any misuse of our services and actively take steps to prevent it. Our company does not advise clients on the structuring of corporate vehicles and the use they may make of them.
“We likewise do not offer solutions whose purpose is to hide unlawful acts such as tax evasion.”
You can read the statement in full here.
But this week solicitor Jeremy Berg, speaking on behalf of the UK firm, insisted that it and the Panamanian company were entirely separate legal entities.
He said: “Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd is not to be confused with Mossack Fonseca, a company based in Panama which is the subject of the news articles and other items published in the media.
“Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd has a licence to distribute services under the brand Mossack Fonseca. It is an entirely separate legal entity from the Panamanian law firm whose records have been leaked to the media.
“On principle Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd will not comment on any allegations, or commentary, where these are sourced from data that has been stolen and published without the authority of the data-owner, concerning the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, or its clients.
“Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd is licensed by HMRC and abides by all regulatory and reporting requirements.”
The web of active and defunct companies registered at Invision House in Hitchin, apart from Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd, include the Raymond Morris Group Ltd and many firms with the initials ‘RM’ – including RM Company Services Ltd, RM Group Ltd, RM Registrars Ltd, RM Nominees Ltd and more.
RM, first registered in London in 1979, describes itself as a provider of business information and business registration, including protection against money laundering.
Its website describes Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd as its ‘sister company’ while offering to create tax-exempt international business companies or IBCs in the Bahamas.
“Through its sister company Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd RM provide a professional IBC company formation and administration service in the Bahamas and have a stock of ready-made companies at their London office,” the website states.
“IBC companies offer a host of benefits to the offshore investor looking for a safe and cost-effective haven for funds and assets.”
Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd was incorporated in London in 1994 and moved to Invision House eight years later, around the same time the RM companies made the same move.
Companies House records RM Companies Services Ltd as secretary of Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd, and Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd’s other registered officers all hold positions at RM companies.
Other dissolved companies registered at Invision House with RM Registrars Ltd as secretary include Mossack Fonseca & Co (Baltics) Ltd, Mossack Fonseca & Co (Moldova) Ltd, Mossack Fonseca & Co (Ukraine) Ltd, Mossack Fonseca & Co (Canada) Ltd and Mossack Fonseca & Co (Toronto) Ltd, all of which were formed in April 2010 and dissolved in May 2012.
Mossack Fonseca Secure Archives Ltd, formed in 2000 and dissolved in May 2012, had its registered address as ‘care of RM Companies Service Ltd, Invision House’ starting in 2003 and had RM companies listed as director and secretary.
Although all the active companies remain registered with Companies House with the Invision House address, a sign bearing the names and details of Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd and the RM Group – present in Google Street View’s photography of Wilbury Way, dated June 2015 – is no longer there this week, with just the supporting posts remaining.
Mr Berg did not comment as to why the sign at Invision House was no longer present.
When the Comet contacted RM, an employee denied that the company was connected to any Mossack Fonseca firm, and could not explain why evidence showed RM and Mossack Fonseca & Co (UK) Ltd to be linked. At the time of going to press the Comet is yet to receive further comment.
Upstairs at Invision House is the base for Ashleys (Hitchin) Ltd, an accounting firm which provides insurance to cover professional fees arising from tax enquiries. Ashleys told the Comet that they had no connection to the matter beyond sharing the building with RM.