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El Salvador launches probe after ‘Panama Papers’ leak

April 6, 2016

State prosecutors in El Salvador said Wednesday they have launched a probe to see if Salvadorans identified in the Panama Papers leak broke any laws.

“The investigation has begun and we will take the necessary steps,” the chief state prosecutor, Douglas Melendez, told a news conference.

“At least 33 Salvadoran clients” did business with the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca — the source of the leaked documents — between 2000 and 2015, the online national newspaper El Faro reported on Sunday.

The offshore companies created for them guaranteed the anonymity of the owners — until the leak, which resulted in 11.5 million Mossack Fonseca documents being handed over to investigative journalists worldwide a year ago.

Their reports, which began on the weekend, have caught the attention of tax and law enforcement officials in many countries.

The law firm says it has been the victim of a hack.

According to El Faro, the offshore companies used by the Salvadoran clients were used for transactions of hundreds of thousands of dollars, including to buy property in El Salvador, “all under the radar of local authorities.”

The people and companies involved, about which El Faro has promised to publish more information, “might have committed illicit activities,” such as tax-dodging, money laundering or fraud, Melendez said.

The prosecutors said he was in contact with the country’s financial regulatory chief and the finance ministry over the direction and scope of the investigation.

The head of the financial unit in the prosecutor’s office, Jorge Cortez, said that a work plan had been established to make national and international inquiries, in contact with its counterpart in Panama.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.