Spanish version

ICIJ

The decision of ‘La Prensa’ to participate

The newspaper was contacted in August 2015 to participate in the project.

The newspaper has not received any compensation.

Spanish version

Temas:

The following is a first person account of La Prensa's involvement in the investigation of Mossack Fonseca. 

In the decade of the 1990s, at its end, I began to pay attention to the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca. But my interest in this firm in particular - as well as others who were in the same business of selling companies - originated for two reasons. The first of them was that I had no idea where Niue was.

Shortly after I learned that it was a tiny island nation, associated with New Zealand, in the Pacific - not far from the island of Fiji - whose inhabitants are fishermen and farmers for the most part. Through this jurisdiction, Mossack Fonseca sold corporations.

Through the years, Mossack Fonseca was named in a number of alleged scandals, especially internationally.

In August 2015, in Lima, Peru, when La Prensa was investigating Odebrecht, I was contacted by Marina Walker, of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Without going into details, Marina briefed me by phone. I understood that I had to sign a confidentiality agreement and that I would have to travel to Munich, Germany, to discuss the project in detail with involved journalists.

A project like this has two important concepts: confidentiality and absolute cooperation. A project of such high confidentiality is and will remain a cornerstone of any research, because this allows journalists to do their job without fear of the information leaking.

For some media, such The New York Times, cooperating with other media is against their policies, so they were not included in the project. In this project, that condition was part of the confidentiality agreement, which La Prensa did not sign without prior consultation with our legal advisors and the authorization of the Director of the newspaper, Lourdes de Obaldía.

To find partners, the ICIJ relied on recommendations and the reputation of media and journalists. Even in this project, there are academics who were journalists, like Giannina Segnini, former head of research of El Nacion, of Costa Rica, who now teaches at Columbia University; or alternative media, such as IDL Reporters, as well as traditional media, television, print and radio.

After La Prensa signed the agreement, the ICIJ authorized that this medium had access to documents with security procedures in order to prevent sabotage.

A quick look at the material allowed me to calculate the huge amount of documents that had to be reviewed, put in context and investigate. The challenge, then, was to review the extensive documentation.

In September, I went to Munich, the headquarters of the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where we met for two days. I was able to recognize several investigative journalists with whom I have worked in the past together. To others, the majority, did not know them personally, but some their reputation preceded them. At that meeting with the ICIJ, there were several things that should be noted.

The first is that there was much curiosity on the topic of anonymous societies in Panama and the Caribbean, where Mossack Fonseca has most of their registered companies. On this issue, La Prensa Deputy Director Rita Vásquez, a lawyer, stressed the reasons why Panama is not a tax haven and also stressed that laws aimed to restructure the jurisdiction, especially on issues of shares to bearer and due diligence had recently been adopted.

At the meeting, journalists also decided the date of publication, allowing period of two weeks so that all media could contact the customers of Mossack Fonseca.

Hence in the designated date, in the middle of March, journalists began to arrive in Panama - including the BBC - to talk with representatives of the firm.

The Munich meeting ended when journalists from various countries presented a summary of the cases in which they worked, thus sharing their findings.

THE RESEARCH STARTS

Back to Panama, we set up a team of journalists, initially composed of Luis Burón, Scott Bronstein, Rita Vásquez, as well as de Obaldía. Ereida Prieto-Barreiro and Yolanda Sandoval were subsequently incorporated.

Months later, in late February, after a list of findings in Panama and other jurisdictions, we began the process to contact the protagonists of the stories, who in turn contacted Mossack Fonseca, made that we affirmed when representatives of the company made us know that their customers were receiving questionnaires from our journalists or being interviewed by the press.

The meetings with our local legal advisors and international continued to approached the publication date, Sunday, April 4, in the afternoon.

Days before that, La Prensa conducted an interview with Ramón Fonseca Mora, a partner of the firm, as well as Sara Montenegro, Director of Legal Affairs of Mossack Fonseca, and other executives of the firm.

Two hours later, the meeting ended. A few days later, the investigation went live, and reverberated around the world.

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