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#PanamaPapers Expose Argentine Soccer Stars and Politicians

By: Raquel García - @venturaG79 - Apr 6, 2016, 10:05 am
En un comunicado la Presidencia de Argentina señala que el presidente no era accionista de la empresa offshore Fleg Trading Ltd como divulgó PanamaPapers (Télam)
Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri denies being a shareholer of Fleg Trading Ltd, an offshore company (Télam)

EspañolArgentina President Mauricio Macri was listed this weekend among those involved in the #PanamaPapers, a huge investigation into tax havens.

The research, led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and later La Nacion and El Trece, shows leaks of 11.5 million documents and 2.6 terabytes of information from 1997 to 2015. The leaks unravel unknown businesses among the Panamanian agency Mossack Fonseca and personalities known worldwide.

The leaks indicate President Macri was in charge of an offshore company together with his father Mariano Franco and his brother since 1998. The board was registered in the Bahamas, as Fleg Trading Ltd. It operated until 2009, when Macri was mayor of Buenos Aires.

As soon as this data came to light, Argentina’s Presidency issued a statement saying that Macri was never mentioned as a shareholder of the family business and therefore was not obliged to inform about this in his affidavit.

The communiqué explained that the company “intended to participate in other non-financial companies as investment or holding in Brazil” and was linked to a family business group. For this reason, Macri was appointed “occasionally as a director, without equity participation.”

“Mauricio Macri’s performance was circumstantial and he only formally covered the position in the directory,” says the statement of the Presidency.

Ivan Pavlosky, the president’s spokesman, said Macri did not declare Fleg Trafing Ltd. as an asset because he has no equity stake in the company.

“Any additional information is freely available on the asset declaration submitted when President Macri was Head of Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires since such a reference is public,” added Pavlosky.

So far, Macri is the only president in the region mentioned in the ‘Panama Papers’ leaks. The president has not personally commented on the subject.

Government opposition did not remain quiet about the leaks, publicly asking Macri to clarify his situation.

“President Mauricio Macri should use the national media to explain the situation to the Argentines,” claimed Head of Renewal Front Deputy Graciela Camano.

“It is important that president Macri clarifies this, so that those who believed in change are not disappointed. We want his situation clarified as soon as possible.”

Macri received heavy criticism last Monday through social networks and in all the media aligned with former president Kirchner’s policies. The @CasaRosadaAR Twiiter account, which was formerly the official account of President Cristina Kirchner, turned it into her space to pay tribute to the Kirchners’ presidential terms , stating “The Nation’s President @mauriciomacri with an undeclared Panama offshore company #corruption.”

The regional television station Telesur also devoted large time spots to the issue this weekend. Interestingly, the television station, which broadcasts from Caracas, Venezuela, did not report on the more than 241,000 documents dealing with Venezuela and various corruption scandals from that country contained in the documents.

The investigation was undertaken by a consortium of 102 media around the world, who analyzed the existent accounts in Panama to detect possible cases of corruption,” said Alejandro Grandinetti, deputy chief of the Argentine opposition’s Renewal Front.

But President Macri is not the only known Argentine involved in the Panama Papers. The case covers among many others, Mayor of Lanús Daniel Muñoz, as well as footballers Lionel Messi, Gabriel Heinze and Leonardo Ulloa.

The Kirchner administration

Apparently Muñoz, as stated by another Kirchner secretary, was involved in money laundering together with pro-Kirchner entrepreneurs Lazaro Baez and Christopher Lee. The latter has a million-dollar debt with the Treasury.

Both Muñoz and his wife were linked to a company called Black Gold Limited, established in the Virgin Islands in 2010 for investing in the US housing market. It was handled with bearer shares — a financial strategy used to conceal the identity of the company owner according Infobae.

Federico de Acahaval, a partner of Christopher Lopez in the gambling business, pulled US $70 millions out of Argentina, said La Nacion, and deposited it in German and Swiss accounts. The route began in Buenos Aires, then carried on in Uruguay and Panama, then the United States, and from there to European banks.

Argentine Soccer Leaks

Lionel Messi and his father Jorge Messi are listed as partners of Mega Star Enterprises. Both the soccer player and his father are already being investigated in Spain after opening offshore companies, according to indictment reports, to evade millions generated by contracts with various companies.

Messi and his father established a Panamanian company which allowed Messi to bill his image rights behind the tax agency. Mega Star Enterprises first appears in the files of Mossack Fonseca on June 13, 2013, the day after a procedure was put in place for the prosecution of the Barcelona soccer player. The documents show that by June 2013, Messi and his father officially owned the company.

According to the Spanish site Sport.es, Messi will perform a “counteroffensive” in which he will denounce the ICIJ and Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Both Messi and his father will make the complaint to show “that nothing indicated in that report is true,” said Sport.es.

Gabriel Heinze, former player of the Manchester United and the Real Madrid teams, created the company Galena Mills Corp. in the Virgin Islands. The same year, Heinz signed a contract with Puma AG which guaranteed a payment of US $ 1 million over five years. Puma payments were channeled through the offshore company.

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A Heinz spokesman said “Galena Mills was part of an inheritance strategy, just in case something bad happened to Heinze.” The same source told ICIJ that the mentioned society “paid all the required taxes” in countries where it was supposed to pay.

When he played in San Lorenzo in 2008, Leonardo Ulloa, scorer of the Leicester City team, signed a contract for his image with Jump Drive Sport Rights, a company registered in New York. The directors and owners of the shares were not people but companies based in Samoa. The legal representative of the company was José Manuel García Osuna, accused of keeping a large percentage of the money supposed to be received by Ulloa for his image rights and for contracts to move from one team to another.

Ulloa preferred not to talk about the image rights agreements he had with Osuna: “I have a good relationship with him now, but do not want to talk about it,” he said.

The Club Atletico Boca Juniors “is one of the 20 major soccer Clubs whose owners or leaders have stakes in offshore companies,” said the ICIJ without giving further details.

While most eyes are now turned toward President Macri, those involved in the Panama Papers leaks cover different areas. This week more details are expected to come out about Argentines involved in the creation of offshore companies.

Raquel García Raquel García

Raquel García is a Venezuelan journalist with over 16 years of experience in digital outlets and radios. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Follow her @venturaG79.