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On April 03, 2016, the press reported that 11.5 million records were leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The records detail offshore holdings of the celebrities, politicians, and the mega-rich many of which were purportedly engaged in illegal activities including tax evasion. Such leaks have been referred to as the “Panama papers” or the “Wikileaks of the mega-rich” by some newspapers.[1] More details can be found at the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (“ICIJ”), which have summarized their findings as follows:

The largest cross-border journalism collaboration ever has uncovered a giant leak of documents from Mossack Fonseca, a global law firm based in Panama.

The secret files:

  • Include 11.5 million records, dating back nearly 40 years – making it the largest leak in offshore history. Contains details on more than 214,000 offshore entities connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories. Company owners in [sic] billionaires, sports stars, drug smugglers and fraudsters.
  • Reveal the offshore holdings 140 politicians and public officials around the world – including 12 current and former world leaders. Among them: the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the president of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia.
  • Document some $2 billion in transactions secretly shuffled through banks and shadow companies by associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Include the names of at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.
  • Show how major banks have driven the creation of hard-to-trace companies in offshore havens. More than 500 banks their subsidiaries and their branches – including HSBC, UBS and Société Générale – created more than 15,000 offshore companies for their customers through Mossack Fonseca.[2]

We take this opportunity to remind our clients and friends of the benefits of voluntary disclosures to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and other tax authorities for those who may be affected by such leaks or otherwise are not in full tax compliance. In general, if a taxpayer voluntarily discloses mistakes to the tax authority, whether such non-compliance was willful, negligent, or an honest mistake, monetary penalties are generally substantially reduced (the amount of reduction of monetary penalties is generally dependent on the degree of culpability) and the taxpayer can avoid criminal liability. However, such reductions are premised on the fact that the disclosure is “voluntary.” In general, to be voluntary, the disclosure must be made before the taxpayer is audited by the tax authority and otherwise before the tax authority becomes or is aware of the non-compliance. As expected, we understand that some governments have already begun examining these leaks. Thus, time can be of the essence in these situations and any disclosures should be made promptly.




[1]           See Toppo, Greg, “Worldwide, jaws drop to Panama Papers’ Leak”, USA Today, last accessed April 3, 2016, available at:

[2]           See “Key Findings: The Panama Papers by the Numbers”, ICIJ, last accessed April 3, 2016, available at: