Among the dozens of world leaders, politicians and celebrities implicated Sunday, in the massive data leak known as the Panama Papers, there are at least 33 individuals or companies that have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department — including several from “rogue states” like North Korea.
The leak involves more than 11 million documents from the records of Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in helping create offshore entities. It says that it has operated ethically over 40 years and has never been charged with any illegal activity.
The 2.6 terabytes of the firm’s leaked data were investigated for over a year by more than 100 global news outlets led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Being listed among the documents does not mean that criminal wrongdoing has been committed. However, the ICIJ alleges that several U.S.-blacklisted clients of Mossack Fonseca have been involved in everything from nukes to arms to illicit oil. It adds that it will release a full list of companies and individuals mentioned in the leak in early May. Here are five for now:
1. DCB Finance, North Korea
According to the Guardian, one of the U.K. publications that assisted the ICIJ investigation, a company called DCB Finance figures prominently in the leaked data. The company, established in 2006, reportedly has owners and executives based in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang. Although it was not blacklisted by the U.S. government until 2013, it came to Washington’s notice for what were said to be illegal activities conducted “since 2006.” These included alleged fundraising for Pyongyang, and links to a bank that allegedly helped finance the regime’s nuclear program.
One of the owners is a North Korean official, while the other — reported to be British banker Nigel Cowie — is the former CEO of North Korea’s Daedong Credit Bank, the apparent parent company of DCB Finance and one that has also faced international sanctions. The Guardian says that Cowie lived in North Korea for two decades after moving there in 1995. While he has praised North Korea as an underrated investment destination in several interviews to foreign journalists, Cowie has also vigorously denied knowledge of any illegal dealings, and says the company was above board.
Mossack Fonseca dropped DCB Finance as a client in 2010, after being informed that it was based in North Korea in a letter from authorities in the British Virgin Isles.
2. Pangates International, Syria
A longtime Mossack Fonseca customer, UAE-based Pangates International Corp. Ltd. is one of three companies sanctioned by Washington for providing the aviation fuel used by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad to carry out air strikes against its citizens.
According to the ICIJ, Pangates is a subsidiary of the Abdulkarim Group, a Syrian company partly based out of Damascus that also has ties to two other sanctioned Mossack Fonseca clients — Maxima Middle East Trading Co. and Morgan Additives Manufacturing Co. It was established by Mossack Fonseca in 1999 on the Pacific island of Niue, then subsequently moved to Samoa and finally to the Seychelles — one of the world’s most popular tax havens — in 2012.
Although the U.S. Treasury issued sanctions against the three companies in June 2014, the leaked documents appear to show that Mossack Fonseca continued to represent Pangates and did not report the company to Seychelles authorities until August 2015, the ICIJ says.
The law firm has denied wrongdoing, with a spokesman telling ICIJ that the onus is on intermediaries like banks to check clients’ backgrounds. “Likewise, we have our own procedures in place to identify such individuals, to the extent it is reasonably possible,” he added.
Pangates also told Reuters in 2013 that it was only “selling to non-Syrian firms” that have not faced international sanctions. “We do not know exactly who is finally using the fuel but according to our information the product is used for civil humanitarian purposes,” it said.
3. Drex Technologies, Syria
The ICIJ says this is one of six companies linked to Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2008 after he allegedly “manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals.”
Mossack Fonseca continued to represent Makhlouf until September 2011, the BBC reports. The Swiss branch of HSBC also provided him with financial services, the Panama Papers appear to show. The bank wrote to the law firm two years after the sanctions were put in place, terming Drex Technologies a company of “good standing.”
Meanwhile, according to the ICIJ, a leaked internal Mossack Fonseca email from February 2011 says: “We have contacted HSBC who stated that they are very aware of the fact that Mr Makhlouf is the cousin of the President of Syria. The HSBC compliance department of the bank not only in Geneva but also in their headquarters in London … confirm that they are comfortable with him.”
4. Petropars Ltd., Iran
Iranian government-run oil and gas giant Petropars, incorporated by Mossack Fonseca in 1998, was hit with U.S. sanctions in 2010 and dropped by the law firm as a client soon after.
The company was first linked to the Iranian government in 2001, when, according to the ICIJ, its board members were charged with corruption over several deals. Mossack Fonseca continued to represent it for another nine years until co-founder Jürgen Mossack noticed that his firm’s address in the British Virgin Islands had been listed under Petropars’ name in the U.S. Treasury blacklist.
Mossack blamed his company’s London office for not adequately scrutinizing its Iran-based clients.
“It would appear Mossack Fonseca UK are not doing their Due Diligence thoroughly (or maybe none at all),” the law firm said in an email, according to ICIJ.
5. John Bredenkamp, Zimbabwe
One of the African nation’s top businessmen, Bredenkamp’s relationship with Mossack Fonseca lasted from 1997 to 2009, the ICIJ says. He has been described by the U.N., which accused one of his companies of supplying equipment to militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as “experienced in setting up clandestine companies and sanctions-busting operations.”
Bredenkamp was blacklisted in 2008 by the U.S., which accused him of being a “crony” of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and a “well-known Mugabe insider.” Although the businessman did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for a comment, he has strongly denied links to Mugabe and was successful in getting European sanctions against him overturned in 2012.