A USA TODAY analysis of more than 1,000 American-based companies registered by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers leak, casts the United States openly into an uncomfortable role: an offshore haven of corporate secrecy for wealthy business operations across the globe.
The analysis found that both Nevada and Wyoming have become secretive havens much like Bermuda and Switzerland have long been. And at least 150 companies set up by Mossack Fonseca in those states have ties to major corruption scandals in Brazil and Argentina.
The corporate records of 1,000-plus Nevada business entities linked to the Panamanian law firm reveal layers of secretive ownership, with few having humans' names behind them, and most tracing back to a tiny number of overseas addresses from Bangkok high rises to post offices on tiny island nations. Only 100 of the Nevada-born corporations have officers with addresses in this country: 90 in Nevada, nine in Florida and one in Delaware.
The financial records show more than 600 of the companies' corporate officers are listed at one of just two addresses in the world, one in Panama and the other Seychelles, a small Indian Ocean archipelago. The addresses, in both countries, are the same as Mossack Fonseca's headquarters.
For about 700 of the American shell companies, the corporate officers are business entities rather than people, meaning no individual is linked to the Nevada firm in state records.
“We shouldn’t be thinking about this as a Panamanian problem,” said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington, D.C. “We should be thinking about this as a very American problem, and a problem that arguably is worse here in the states than it is in Panama.”
The registered agent for all of the companies in Nevada is M.F. Corporate Services (Nevada) Ltd., a one-employee operation located in an unassuming Las Vegas office suite.
In Argentina, a prosecutor’s 2014 report on the financial dealings of the former and current presidents, Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and an associate, Lázaro Báez, included the names of 150 of the Nevada corporations with Mossack Fonseca links.
The Nevada corporations have also been brought into the separate sprawling nationwide corruption investigation by Brazilian officials, dubbed “Operation Car Wash,” which centers on allegations involving the state oil company Petrobras. The names of least 45 Nevada-based companies and two Wyoming-based companies linked to Mossack Fonseca are listed in investigative documents connected to the Brazil investigation published online by Brazilian prosecutors. Among the documents made public by prosecutors is a slide presentation from Mossack Fonseca’s Brazil office featuring a pie chart of locations it has set up companies.
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