ICIJ · The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

The Panama Papers Reading List

Introduction People Data Game
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Panama Papers Wins Pulitzer Prize

The honor is a testament to the enterprise and teamwork of our staff and our partners here in the U.S. and around the world, ICIJ's director says.

Awards and recognition

The Panama Papers project, led by ICIJ and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung working in collaboration with more than 100 media outlets, has been honored with awards and finalist mentions by more than a dozen major international prizes, including:

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Where Are They Now? A Year Later, Mixed Fortunes For Panama Papers Line-Up

One year after the Panama Papers first became an international catchphrase, here’s a globe-hopping update on the people and institutions caught up in the scandal.

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VIDEO: Twelve Months of Investigations, Impact and Outrage

A year ago the Panama Papers dominated newspaper headlines and brought now-iconic images to TV screens around the world. Since then, investigations have continued and outrage has grown.

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Panama Prosecutor Claims 'Solid Case' Against Mossack Fonseca

The law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers affair, sold shell companies and held bank accounts that were used to help conceal bribes paid across South America, a Panamanian prosecutor alleged at a press conference.

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Founders of Panama Papers Law Firm Arrested on Money Laundering Charges

Police in Panama arrested the founders of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers scandal, on money laundering charges Thursday after authorities raided the firm’s headquarters as part of investigations into Brazil’s largest-ever bribery scandal.

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Tax Agencies Draw Up ‘Target List’ of Offshore Enablers

Tax agencies from 30 countries convened in Paris this week to take part in the largest ever simultaneous exchange of tax information and to share results and details on thousands of investigations sparked by the Panama Papers.

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Panama’s Revolving Door Shows Global Challenge of Offshore Reform

In a country where top-drawer lawyers move freely between high government posts and law firms selling secrecy-cloaked shell companies, bringing lasting change to the offshore industry is a challenge.

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Journalists Hang Tough in Face of Backlash Against Panama Papers Reporting

Reporters have faced consequences both in nations where media crackdowns are common and also in nations with reputations for high levels of press freedom.

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Panama Papers Have Had Historic Global Effects — and the Impacts Keep Coming

The investigation has produced an almost daily drumbeat of regulatory moves, follow-up stories and calls by politicians and activists for more action to combat offshore financial secrecy.

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BVI Hits Mossack Fonseca With Largest Fine Ever After Panama Papers Investigation

The $440,000 penalty followed a six-month investigation which included on-site compliance inspections and the appointment of an officer to monitor Mossack Fonseca's operations.

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Experts Who Quit Panama's Transparency Commission Produce Their Own Report

Report's authors say that the U.S. and EU have the power to force other nations to embrace transparency reforms by threatening to cut off access to their financial systems.

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Pakistan's PM Responds to Supreme Court Hearing on Panama Papers

Nawaz Sharif defended himself before the nation’s highest court, as opposition supporters celebrated in Islamabad.

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Panama Hires PR Firm Amid Ongoing Panama Papers Fallout

A PR firm is being paid $50,000 a month to help the Panama government, while arrests, protests and more continue around the world.

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Hedge Fund Sues Mossack Fonseca For Alleged Obstruction of Justice in Nevada

Confidential emails revealed in the Panama Papers have opened a new front in a bitter court battle in Nevada involving a hedge fund led by an American billionaire, new court filings show.

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Experts Quit Panama's Transparency Committee Over Lack of Transparency

The committee was established in the wake of the Panama Papers to probe Panama's financial services industry, but now two out of three international members have resigned.

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Continent of Secrets: Uncovering Africa's Offshore Empires

Africa receives $50 billion of foreign aid money annually, but then loses roughly the same amount through illicit outflows. Can you uncover Africa's offshore empires? Play now!

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Secret Offshore Deals Deprive Africa of Billions in Natural Resource Dollars

The Panama Papers show how politicians and mining, oil and gas interests benefit from secrecy and dubious multimillion dollar transfers.

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Secret Documents Expose Nigerian Oil Mogul’s Offshore Hideaways

A dealmaker’s backstage maneuverings are revealed in the Panama Papers as he hung with celebrities while criminal investigators closed in.

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Diamond Mine with Offshore Ties Leaves Trail of Complaints

The Panama Papers reveal a network of shell companies linked to a mining operation that has been accused of environmental harms and unpaid taxes.

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Out of Africa, Into Tax Havens

As visitors come to see what’s in Africa, some safari operators’ profits head offshore.

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Reporters Warned, Inquiries Opened as African Nations Respond to Panama Papers

Mossack Fonseca targeted clients in Africa for business, but now some of those clients have become targets themselves as authorities launch investigations into the Panama Papers revelations.

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Panama Papers Credited As New EU Anti Money-Laundering And Tax Abuse Rules Proposed

The European Commission has announced it will tighten the European Union’s anti-money laundering rules and increase transparency requirements for companies and trusts.

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Venezuela and Panama To Launch Joint Panama Papers Investigation

The joint investigation will be the "first of its kind," and Venezuela's attorney general has hinted at a long list of suspects.

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European Inquiry to Call UK Chancellor, Mossack Fonseca to Testify

A special 65-member Panama Papers committee of inquiry has been created by the European parliament to investigate potential wrongdoing exposed by ICIJ's investigation.

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Mossack Fonseca's US Operations Under Pressure, Island Offices Closed

Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca’s local affiliate in Nevada has resigned from more than 1,000 companies and paid a penalty to the state amid investigations on multiple fronts.

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US States Under Pressure As World Pushes For Financial Transparency

Nevada, Wyoming and Delaware are facing growing pressure over their lack of corporate transparency, as the United States and the international community continue to respond to fallout from the Panama Papers.

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The Malefactors of Mossack Fonseca

Meet The Dutchman, the Queen of the South, the Boss of Bosses and other convicted felons and alleged wrongdoers who have benefited from services provided by the law firm.

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Panama Papers Include Dozens of Americans Tied to Fraud and Financial Misconduct

Mossack Fonseca's files include offshore companies linked to at least 36 Americans accused of serious financial wrongdoing, including fraud and racketeering.

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Beyond Panama: Unlocking the world’s secrecy jurisdictions

The 21 jurisdictions covered by the Panama Papers data vary from the rolling hills of Wyoming to tropical getaways like the British Virgin Islands. But all have at least one thing in common - secrecy is the rule.

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Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come

The anonymous whistleblower behind the Panama Papers has conditionally offered to make the documents available to government authorities.

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US Officials React to Panama Papers Disclosures With Get-Tough Proposals

The Obama administration has proposed a national registry documenting the real owners of shell companies and other measures aimed at fighting offshore chicanery.

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Iceland’s First Lady Linked to Offshore Investments

Records in the Panama Papers and the Swiss Leaks leaked files tie the wife of Iceland President Ólafur Grímsson to offshore companies and accounts.

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Coming Soon: ICIJ to Release Panama Papers Offshore Companies Data

The database, to be released on May 9, will likely be the largest ever release of secret offshore companies and the people behind them.

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Cartel-Linked Suspects Arrested After Panama Papers Revelations

Uruguayan prosecutors are seeking to bring to trial at least five individuals detained on suspicion of laundering money for a powerful Mexican drug cartel.

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US Prosecutor Opens Investigation Into 'Panama Papers Matters'

ICIJ welcomes the interest from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office, but has made it clear it won't be turning over its data or taking part in any investigation.

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Banks Ordered to Provide Info on Panama Dealings to NY Regulator

More than a dozen banks identified in the Panama Papers investigation have been asked to hand over details of their communications with Mossack Fonseca.

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Art held offshore

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Pakistan's PM Leaves Country, Spanish Minister Resigns

Nawaz Sharif faces growing pressure and calls for his resignation, a Spanish minister has stepped aside, and more governments are pledging reform as fallout from the Panama Papers revelations continues.

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Panama Police Raid Mossack Fonseca As Global Fallout Continues

The search of Mossack Fonseca's Panama headquarters comes after a number of raids and official action taken in response to the Panama Papers revelations.

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Global joint investigation to be proposed at special tax meeting

Tax officials from 28 nations met in Paris to develop a strategy for collaborative action based on Panama Papers revelations.

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British PM Announces New Transparency Measures Following Panama Papers Revelations

David Cameron appeared before parliament on Monday to address concerns about his own links to offshore holdings revealed in the Panama Papers, as well as announce reform aimed at boosting transparency.

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The Art of Secrecy

Locked in the files of a Panama law firm are the answers to mysteries involving Van Goghs, Picassos, Rembrandts and other masterworks.

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Panama Papers Spark High-Level FIFA Resignation and Swiss Police Raid

Swiss police searched the office of Europe's top soccer association and a member of FIFA's ethics panel resigned following Panama Papers revelations.

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Leaked Files Offer Many Clues To Offshore Dealings by Top Chinese

Eight current and former members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the country's top decision makers, have relatives with secret offshore companies.

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Spies and Shadowy Allies Lurk in Secret With Help From Offshore Firm

Firm helps CIA operatives and other characters — real or fanciful — from the world of espionage set up offshore companies to obscure their dealings.

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Iceland Prime Minister Tenders Resignation Following Panama Papers Revelations

The prime minister of Iceland said he would resign following mass protests triggered by reports from ICIJ and partners that he had owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands with his wife.

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Law Firm’s Files Include Dozens of Companies and People Blacklisted by U.S. Authorities

Global law firm’s customers include suspected financiers of terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferators and gunrunners.

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How Family that Runs Azerbaijan Built an Empire of Hidden Wealth

Documents peel away three layers of secret ownership in a conglomerate and lead to gold mines and overseas real estate.

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Global Banks Team with Law Firms To Help the Wealthy Hide Assets

Leaked records show that hundreds of banks and their subsidiaries and branches registered nearly 15,600 shell companies.

About this project

The Panama Papers is an unprecedented investigation that reveals the offshore links of some of the globe’s most prominent figures.

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All Putin’s Men: Secret Records Reveal Money Network Tied to Russian Leader

Complex offshore financial deals channel money and power towards a network of people and companies linked to President Vladimir Putin.

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Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption

Millions of documents show heads of state, criminals and celebrities using secret hideaways in tax havens.

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Panamanian Law Firm Is Gatekeeper To Vast Flow of Murky Offshore Secrets

Files show client roster that includes drug dealers, Mafia members, corrupt politicians and tax evaders — and wrongdoing galore.

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Leak Ties Ethics Guru to Three Men Charged in FIFA Scandal

Secret documents show how deeply the world of soccer has become enmeshed in the world of offshore havens.

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Iceland’s Prime Minister Ducks Question But the Answer Catches Up with Him

He came to power after the country’s financial collapse while hiding his offshore holdings of millions in bonds from Icelandic banks.

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How the One Percenters Divorce: Offshore Intrigue Plays Hide and Seek with Millions

Firm that practices no matrimonial law nonetheless plays big role when the superrich around the globe decide to split.

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How the One Percenters Divorce: Offshore Intrigue Plays Hide and Seek with Millions

Firm that practices no matrimonial law nonetheless plays big role when the superrich around the globe decide to split

By

In this story

  • Offshore companies used ‘in a game of hide and concealment’ after marriages break down
  • Documents list luxury cars and yachts, lavish homes, and art collections
  • Spouses face a costly battle to prove ownership of offshore assets in protracted divorce proceedings

Christopher Williams had been waiting 90 minutes inside the office of a helicopter tour company on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, keeping a careful eye on the airport parking lot below.

In his hands he held court papers, ready to be served on a Russian billionaire locked in a high-stakes divorce. He wore a small video camera to record the moment.

Suddenly Williams saw his chance. He uncrossed his legs and exhaled. He opened the door and sprinted down a short flight of stairs and across the asphalt to a convoy of white SUVs. Inside one of the vehicles was Dmitri Rybolovlev, a mining magnate. His wife Elena claimed he was hiding money she sought in their divorce.

“For Dmitri,” Williams said as he flung the court papers through an open driver’s side window into the lap of one of the billionaire’s chauffeurs. He locked eyes with Rybolovlev as the driver hit the gas pedal to speed away.

“Served!” Williams shouted, breathlessly.

articles/00Divorce/160403-divorce-16.jpgWilliams’ pursuit was one episode in a global asset hunt in one of the world’s bitterest divorces. It illustrates the lengths that spouses, their lawyers and professional trackers must go in search of wealth stashed offshore in complex networks of companies and trusts.

The details of the Rybolovlev divorce struggle and many others are contained in secret files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media partners. The more than 11 million documents, dating from 1977 to December 2015, offer an inside view of Mossack Fonseca, a global law firm based in Panama that helps customers create offshore shelters. They provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illuminate a dark alternate universe where some people go to play by different rules.

Family fraud?

“A dishonest husband is as much a fraudster as Bernard Madoff,” Martin Kenney, an asset recovery specialist in the British Virgin Islands who has worked on behalf of wives from Russia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the United States, told ICIJ. “These offshore companies and foundations . . . are instruments in a game of hide and concealment.”

At the heart of Elena Rybolovleva’s legal battle was the allegation that her estranged husband — now ranked by Forbes as Russia’s 14th richest man — had used tax havens to help obscure real estate and other wealth.

The documents Williams served that day targeted Rybolovlev’s $88 million New York City penthouse, a purchase that Elena claims violated an order by a Swiss court freezing his assets.

But her attorney claimed there were greater treasures at stake elsewhere. Rybolovlev controlled an offshore company that was used to buy and store artwork worth $650 million, her attorney alleged in court documents filed in the British Virgin Islands.

For decades, spouses — nearly always male and part of the global One Percent — have solicited Mossack Fonseca to help shield assets from soon-to-be exes, according to the files. And Mossack Fonseca has agreed with little hesitation.

In Thailand, the firm offered help when a husband asked in an email for a “silver bullet” in case his wife ever tried to strip him of his assets. In Ecuador, Mossack Fonseca employees proposed shell companies to “a customer who needs to acquire a Panamanian corporation to transfer assets before the divorce.” From Luxembourg, employees joked and sent emoticon winks when they agreed to help another husband, a Dutch man who wanted to “protect” assets “against the unpleasant results of a divorce (on the horizon!)”

Offshore service providers that knowingly place a husband’s assets beyond a wife’s reach can be sued, experts say.

“The closer in proximity to a divorce when these people take these kinds of steps, the more likely these assets will eventually be set aside for marital fraud,” said Sanford K. Ain, a Washington D.C.-based divorce attorney.

Ain worked on one case so complex he kept an intricate diagram of the husband’s bank accounts, companies and trusts on a notebook in his desk. “It looked like someone had thrown spaghetti on a page,” he recall. He said it cost $2 to $3 million to track all the assets down.

Michelle Young, who fought a well-publicized divorce battle, founded an organization in 2014 to help defrauded ex-wives navigate the costly British court system.

“It’s a blood sport,” Young said. “Unless you’ve got the funds, you’re dead and buried.”

Young has spent seven years and millions of dollars tracing assets linked to her ex-husband, property developer Scot Young, who used Mossack Fonseca and other offshore service providers to manage a tangled financial empire that included companies and bank accounts in Russia, the British Virgin Islands and Monaco.

“It’s like a baby Enron there are so many assets,” she said in an interview from London.

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In 2013, Young won $32 million in a divorce settlement. Shortly after his appeal against the settlement failed, Scot Young was found impaled on spiked railings after plummeting from the fourth floor of his London apartment. His girlfriend said he’d told her he was going to jump, but authorities said they could not say for sure if he committed suicide or simply fell.

“We are not involved in managing our clients’ companies,” said Mossack Fonseca in a statement. “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.”

The firm added: “We regret any misuse of companies that we incorporate or the services we provide and take steps wherever possible to uncover and stop such use.”

Love lost

Dmitri Rybolovlev married Elena, a fellow student with whom he had fallen in love at a university in the Urals, in 1987. Over the next 20 years, the couple had two children, moved to Switzerland and made a fortune. Dmitri became known as Russia’s “Fertilizer King.” They were, lawyers later stated, “fabulously rich.”

In December 2008, Elena Rybolovleva filed for divorce, citing “a prolonged period of strained marital relations.” Under Swiss law, each spouse was entitled to an equal split of the couple’s wealth.

Deciding what assets should be part of the split wasn’t so simple. As the Rybolovlevs’ wealth had increased, so had a complex network of offshore companies.

articles/00Divorce/160403-divorce-06.jpg For instance, in 2002 Mossack Fonseca had incorporated Xitrans Finance Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. The offshore company, no more than a post office box in sunny Tortola, was a mini-Louvre museum when it came to its assets; Xitrans Finance Ltd owned paintings by Picasso, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Rothko. It also bought Louis XVI style desks, tables and drawers made by some of Paris’s grandest furniture makers.

As the marriage broke down, according to notes from a court hearing sent via email to Mossack Fonseca in January 2009, Dmitri used Xitrans Finance Ltd to move these luxury items out of Switzerland to Singapore and London, beyond her reach. While Xitrans Finance Ltd was held by the Rybolovlev family trust, according to Mossack Fonseca’s records, only Dmitri Rybolovlev held shares in the company, despite Elena’s claim that Xitrans bought assets “on behalf of herself and her husband.”

In 2014, after years of legal wrangling, a Swiss court awarded Elena $4.5 billion. An appeals court later reportedly slashed this figure to $600 million when it re-calculated the undisclosed settlement based on money held in Ryboloblev’s Cypriot trusts.

Dmitry Rybolovlev and Elena Rybolovleva declined to comment.

Equal wrongs

Wives aren’t immune to the temptation to use offshore hideaways.

In 2004, Mossack Fonseca staff met with Marcela Dworzak, wife of retired Gen. Antonio Ibárcena Amico, Peru’s former naval chief and a friend to ex-President Alberto Fujimori.

Shortly after the end of the Fujimori regime in 2000, Dworzak’s husband had been convicted of corruption and embezzlement for his role in a military arms deal.

The files show Mossack Fonseca employees were concerned by a media report that claimed that a member of Dworzak’s family had used an offshore company to launder money through real estate and into her bank account. The name of the suspect offshore company reported in the media was similar to one of Dworzak’s two companies registered with Mossack Fonseca, Alverson Financial S.A. The journalists had misspelled the company’s name, Mossack Fonseca suspected, and the company in question was one of theirs.

To clear up this issue, Dworzak visited Mossack Fonseca’s headquarters in Panama. With lawyers at her side, she assured employees at the law firm that Alverson Financial S.A. was, in fact, her company and that everything had been done “in a transparent, legal and clean way.”

Her companies were only used to hide assets from her husband.

“She has been separated for years from her husband, an official of the Fujimori government, and the companies were to protect the property she inherited from her family against the possible divorce,” Mossack Fonseca employees reported in an intra-company note. Dworzak’s lawyers confirmed that she “does not want him to know about the goods she has,” according to notes from the meeting shared among Mossack Fonseca employees. After some discussion, Mossack Fonseca accepted Dworzak’s explanation and she remained a client of the firm.

Years later, Peruvian authorities did investigate Dworzak for money laundering. She now lives in Chile and has not returned to Peru to face allegations that she used a Panamanian bank account to hold money from the corrupt arms deal for which her husband was convicted. The Ibarcena-Dworzak family denies all wrongdoing and claims Peru’s allegations are politically motivated.

Dworzak declined to comment.

“Rotten edifice”

Like the Rybolovlevs, Nichola Joy and Clive Joy-Morancho’s divorce has been expensive and well publicized.

The couple separated in December 2011 after more than five years of marriage and three children. Since then Nichola Joy has been seeking $40 million in assets that she says should be hers. At issue are at least two London homes, a charter plane, a six-bedroom French chateau, a Caribbean villa and a plot of land in a Swiss ski village.

Joy-Morancho, a Zimbabwean-born aviation tycoon, insists the fortune is tied up offshore and not his to use. He says he will suffer financial ruin if he’s forced to meet his ex-wife’s demands.

articles/00Divorce/160403-divorce-13.jpgIn late 2014, an English judge decided the fate of some of the feuding ex-couple’s disputed wealth, which included vintage cars worth millions. Of the 35-car collection that included a Bentley, a Ferrari and two McLarens, Joy-Morancho found his Alfa-Romeo particularly “pretty,” he told the court.

The judge, Sir Peter Singer, refused Joy’s request for the cars and any value they might have. Even though Joy-Morancho had described the collection as “mine,” in the eyes of the law the cars were not owned by their driver but by a trust via an offshore company. Joy won $180,000 a year until the final decision is made on how to split the remainder of Joy-Morancho’s wealth.

The judge criticized both sides but reserved his harshest words for Joy-Morancho, his friends and business associates.

“Their position is an elaborate charade, the stage management of which has been conducted ruthlessly and without regard to cost,” the judge wrote, calling the ex-husband’s case “a rotten edifice founded on concealment and misrepresentation and therefore a sham, a charade, bogus, spurious and contrived.”

The files show Mossack Fonseca has been part of Joy-Morancho’s offshore edifice for years.

The firm has hundreds of emails and files on Joy-Morancho and businessmen and dealings connected to him dating back to 1997. The firm has earned thousands of dollars for paper-pushing in the name of some of the same companies and directors used in England to contest his ex-wife’s claim.

In May 2013, Joy’s lawyers sent Mossack Fonseca a court order to freeze Joy-Morancho’s wealth until the courts divvied up the couple’s belongings. As the British Virgin Islands representative for Glengarriff Property Holdings Limited, a company that owned two disputed London homes, Mossack Fonseca was prohibited from doing anything that could harm Joy’s rights.

“The consequences for breach of a Freezing Injunction are serious, and we as Registered Agent, must act responsibly,” Daphne Durand, a legal supervisor in Mossack Fonseca’s compliance office in the British Virgin Islandswarned her colleagues.

In any case, it may not have mattered; Justice Singer ruled that Joy-Morancho passed official ownership of the London homes to an offshore trust before he married Joy, who could not therefore claim the properties as part of their marriage.

“I was naïve, innocent of what trust fund meant when I married him,” Nichola Joy told ICIJ in an email.

“The problem is that the cost to fight this injustice precludes me and my ex knows it,” Joy wrote. “The law has to change, these offshore trusts make a mockery of justice.”

Joy-Morancho did not respond to requests for comment.

A judge may eventually decide on what is left of Joy’s $40 million settlement demand. But with offshore companies and trusts obstructing her path, Joy faces a challenge familiar to many ex-spouses who chase assets across the globe.

Behind it all, Justice Singer noted, is an ex-husband with “a desire to vanquish her financially.”

He has two “horrors,” the judge said: “paying anything that cannot be avoided” to tax collectors or to his ex-wife.

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