850 Colombians caught up in Panama Papers scandal

By bogotapost April 21, 2016

Colombia Panama PapersTax justice campaigners say $14bn deposited in Panama as country’s political and business elite deny any wrongdoing

About 850 people in Colombia, including politicians, businessmen and athletes, have been implicated in the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal.

Justicia Tributaria, a group of experts who campaign for tax equality and transparency in the country, report that about USD$14 billion in deposits from Colombian businesses and individuals is being held in Panama.

And Panama is just the tip of the iceberg. The former head of DIAN, Juan Ricardo Ortega, told El Tiempo that Colombians have USD$100 billion held in offshore accounts, which adds up to USD$6 billion in uncollected taxes.

The Panama Papers

11.5 million documents – the biggest ever data leak in history – from law firm Mossack Fonseca (MF) were leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Over 100 journalists from around the world participated in the in-depth international investigation that followed, and together they uncovered tax dodging activities and the creation of offshore fiscal havens by some of the world’s leading politicians and businesses.

Mossack Fonseca is headquartered in Panama, but has branches in many countries around the world, including Colombia.

It is not illegal for Colombians to hold money in Panama or in other offshore accounts. What is illegal is not declaring those assets, or indeed using shell companies to hide the proceeds of illegal activities.

To that end, DIAN has announced that they will set up a special unit to investigate all of the people implicated in the papers. However, experts warn that without cooperation from the Panamanian authorities, it will be difficult for the new unit to get the proof needed to prosecute.

Colombia included Panama as a tax haven in October 2014, but excluded it a month later due to political pressure. Commentators are now asking why this happened and why it has not been resolved.

The Colombian connection

CONNECTAS, a Latin American partner to the ICIJ, has published the profiles of a number of Colombian businessmen and politicians implicated in the scandal, along with company details and, in some cases, email correspondence between Mossack Fonseca employees.

These include businessmen Luis Alberto Ríos Velilla and Miguel Silva Pinzón in addition to politicians Alfredo Ramos Maya and Roberto Hinestrosa Rey.

Being named in the papers only demonstrates a connection with MF, and many of those named are already arguing that their activities were legal.

Camilo Gómez Alzate is listed as the founder of MF in Colombia, the lawyer and Conservative politician served as private secretary to Pastrana during his time as mayor of Bogotá.

Carlos Gutiérrez Robayo, brother-in-law of former mayor Gustavo Petro, used MF to create 15 businesses registered in the British Virgin Islands. The entrepreneur’s lawyers have refuted this claim, adding that he did not commit “any type of illicit activity”.

Humberto de la Calle has confirmed his family had a company in Panama, but also said that it had been legally registered with the Colombian tax authorities.


Charlotte Mackenzie