ICIJ · The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

The Panama Papers Reading List

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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 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

By

In this story

  • President Aliyev’s family named in a proposal to reap benefits from a complex offshore structure to hold interests in a major conglomerate
  • Children and sister of Azerbaijan’s President revealed in connection with previously unknown offshore companies
  • New revelations that President Aliyev’s children controlled a majority interest in a controversial gold mine project

On October 31, 2003, Ilham Aliyev, the newly elected president of Azerbaijan, stood behind a podium and a profusion of white flowers to address presidents, prime ministers and 2,000 other guests assembled at the Respublika Palace. First touching the constitution and then the Koran, Aliyev swore to serve his people. That night, fireworks lit up the sky of the Azeri capital, Baku.

Aliyev’s election to lead this energy-rich former Soviet republic bordering both Russia and Iran had been all but guaranteed. His ailing father, Heydar, an ex-KGB officer, had served in the same role for the previous 10 years. Election monitors reported that police had beaten and detained political opponents, in line with the country’s reputation for repression.

Becoming president wasn’t Aliyev’s only ascension during 2003. Using a network of secretive companies in offshore tax havens, his family, advisers and allies set about acquiring expensive overseas homes and positions in the country’s valuable industries and natural resources, including the family’s majority control of a major gold mine that has been unknown until now.

The new details of the Aliyev offshore empire emerge from secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media partners from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama- headquartered law firm that helps to set up hard-to-trace corporate structures for clients. The more than 11 million documents reviewed by ICIJ and its partners – emails, bank accounts and client records – represent the inner workings of Mossack Fonseca for nearly 40 years, from 1977 to December 2015.

Family alliances

The records show that, in mid-2003, months before the October presidential election, Fazil Mammadov, Azerbaijan’s tax minister, began to create AtaHolding, which has since become one of the country’s biggest conglomerates. Mammadov, influential in his own right, subsequently invited President Aliyev’s family to join him, cementing a potentially potent and advantageous business and political partnership.

AtaHolding is a corporation that has significant interests in Azerbaijan’s banking, telecommunications, construction, mining, oil and gas sectors. Its most recent corporate filing in 2014 shows it held over $490 million in assets.

The leaked files show that the tax minister created a company in Panama through Mossack Fonseca named FM Management Holding Group S.A. Stand-in directors — straw men supplied by Mossack Fonseca — concealed the fact that Mammadov was involved.

Mammadov then created a second offshore entity – this time a foundation – called UF Universe Foundation. Panama foundations are subject to strict confidentiality laws. Anyone who discloses information about them can be fined or imprisoned.

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The files show that two years later, in 2005, Aliyev’s wife, the fashion-conscious, collagen-infused first lady and member of Parliament, Mehriban Aliyeva, became one of two managers of the UF Universe Foundation, alongside the tax minister, Mammadov.

In attachments to a “High Importance” email sent to Mossack Fonseca in February 2005 by a lawyer representing the Azeris, documents proposed that then six-year-old Heydar Aliyev, the president’s son who is known in the files as “A1,” be made the beneficiary of 20 percent of the foundation’s proceeds. The plan also proposed that the president’s two daughters, Leyla, then 19 and Arzu, then 17, would hold 15 percent each. Mammadov’s son held 30 percent while Ashraf Kamilov, a former tax ministry official, and other former tax officials held smaller stakes. So, too, did AtaHolding’s chairman, Ahmet Erentok.

So the secrecy had three layers: 1) The UF Universe Foundation, which controlled 2) FM Management, the Panama company set up by Mammadov, which owned shares in 3) a United Kingdom-based company named Financial Management Holding Limited. According to a flowchart shared with Mossack Fonseca in 2005, the UK company held 51 percent of shares in AtaHolding Azerbaijan.

While there is no doubt that these secret companies existed and paid hundreds of dollars to Mossack Fonseca in administrative fees, it is unclear whether or not the proposed structure to benefit President Aliyev’s teenage daughters and six-year-old son and other prominent Azeris was ever adopted.

UF Universe Foundation was closed in January 2007. Then, in February 2014, months after President Aliyev was sworn in for his third term, a London-based lawyer sought to reactivate the Foundation and FM Management Holding Group. Mossack Fonseca was happy to oblige and issued a $9,000 invoice in exchange for reactivating the company.

Most recently, majority ownership — 51 percent — of AtaHoldings was held by Hughson Management Inc., according to AtaHolding’s online annual report. A 2010 letter signed by Mossack Fonseca listed Aliyev’s daughters, Arzu and Leyla, and Swiss lawyer Olivier Mestelan as directors.

ICIJ sought comments from all individuals named in this article and received no responses. In response to previous reports about the family’s holdings, the President’s spokesman said the daughters “are grown up and have the right to do business.”

Friendship with U.S.

Despite global criticism of Azerbaijan’s mounting authoritarianism, the Aliyev regime has been a friend of successive U.S. administrations. The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Aliyevs’ Azerbaijan, including millions for military and security training. Azerbaijan’s government is one of the largest buyers of influence in Washington D.C. and, together with its lobbyists, spent at least $4 million in 2014 alone burnishing the country’s image. The country has taken members of Congress on all-expenses-paid visits to Azerbaijan, lavishing the lawmakers with silk scarves, crystal tea sets and rugs.

articles/02Azerbaijan/160404-azerbaijan-03.jpg Azerbaijan’s importance in energy, as a supply route to American troops in Afghanistan and its potential role in the fight against ISIS makes the United States a reluctant critic, said former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard D. Kauzlarich, now an adjunct professor at George Mason University.

“Being where it is – bordered by Russia and Iran in a very unstable geopolitical environment – is a factor that makes it among the more unique countries in the region,” said Kauzlarich, who was U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan from 1994-1997.

Its levels of corruption and elite control of the economy make it stand out in a part of the world where these things aren’t unusual, he added.

“The franchising out of economic activity to families and clans that are important for maintaining the current regime in power is not an unusual pattern,” said Kauzlarich. “However, it certainly has been perfected in Azerbaijan.”

Bigger offshore network revealed

The fact that Aliyev’s family can be linked to offshore companies is not new. A 2013 investigation by ICIJ showed that Aliyev, his wife and his daughters owned or were otherwise connected to offshore companies. Now Mossack Fonseca’s files greatly expand on what is known and disclose new companies belonging to the President’s two daughters, Leyla and Arzu.

The documents show Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva controlled two previously hidden British Virgin Islands-incorporated firms — Kingsview Developments Limited and Exaltation Limited. It is unclear from the files the purpose of the first company, but the second was incorporated in January 2015 to own a British property worth more than $1 million.

President Aliyev’s eldest sister, Sevil, is also shown in the files as the owner of another British Virgin Islands company, Setanon Properties Inc. Again, it is unclear from the files what the company was used for. In the Mossack Fonseca documents Sevil Aliyeva, a composer, listed her address in West London in a neighborhood where average home prices touch nearly $9 million. ## Sitting on a gold mine

Mossack Fonseca’s records reveal that the first family secured secret control of a gold mine, dwarfing a smaller stake they’d been known to hold.

In 2006, Azerbaijan’s government granted mining leases in the country’s west to a consortium of companies that established the Azerbaijan International Mineral Resources Operating Company Ltd. Under the agreement, the consortium would keep 70 percent of the mine’s profit, and the Azeri government received the remaining 30 percent, according to a 30-year production agreement.

At the time, opposition politicians criticized the deal’s lack of transparency.

In 2012, Azeri journalists working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a non-profit investigative journalism group focused on Eastern Europe and Central Asia, reported that one of the four consortium members, Globex International LLP, was owned, in turn, by three Panamanian companies controlled by President Aliyev’s daughters and Mestelan, a Swiss businessman and family friend.

articles/02Azerbaijan/160404-azerbaijan-02.jpg One of the OCCRP reporters was Azeri investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, also a member of ICIJ. In 2015, Azeri authorities imprisoned Ismayilova in what is widely believed to have been retaliation for her exposé of government corruption. Authorities charged Ismayilova with counts of embezzlement, illegal business, tax evasion, and abuse of power and inciting a man to commit suicide. Her sentence: 7½ years.

“Sorting out AIMROC’s structure is a daunting task,” Ismayilova wrote in 2012, connecting the consortium’s operating company with an opaque “Panamanian trail” that linked the Aliyev family with the mining consortium.

Mossack Fonseca’s files reveal the leading member of the consortium, Londex Resources S.A., which was incorporated in Panama in 2005 and held 45 percent of the consortium’s stake. The files show that, in April 2008, the same three Panamanian companies owned by President Aliyev’s daughters and Mestelan, who shared control of Globex International, became Londex’s shareholders. Globex International held 11 percent of the consortium’s share of the goldmine.

The trio’s control of Londex Resources meant that President Aliyev’s family and inner circle controlled a majority stake – 56 percent – in the consortium.

There are nearly 400 documents about Londex in the Mossack Fonseca files, including invoices, corporate registry records, instructions to open a bank account, and emails marked “URGENT REQUEST!!!” Londex was a valuable client for Mossack Fonseca. The law firm invoiced Londex for thousands of dollars between 2005 and 2014.

In January 2016, mine workers protested before Azerbaijan’s parliament, alleging that Londex had not paid wages since 2014, when the mine was abruptly closed.

One of the protestors, Cumshud Alasgerli, a 46-year-old married father of three who worked as a geologist on the mine, was interviewed by OCCRP.

“More than 200 workers can’t get their salary,” Alasgerli said. He said he hadn’t received wages owed to him for nearly two years. “And the government doesn’t do anything for us.”

Alasgerli said he has taken his employment case against Londex to court. But he is not optimistic. The company and the government alike have so far failed to help.

“They just don’t want to help us,” Alasgerli said. “They pretend like they don’t know anything.”

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