By Kylie MacLellan and Elida Moreno LONDON/PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Governments across the world began investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful on Monday after a leak of four decades of documents from a Panamanian law firm that specialized in setting up offshore companies. The "Panama Papers" revealed financial arrangements of politicians and public figures including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine. While holding money in offshore companies is not illegal, journalists who received the leaked documents said they could provide evidence of wealth hidden for tax evasion, money laundering, sanctions busting, drug deals or other crimes. The law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which says it has set up more than 240,000 offshore companies for clients around the globe, denied any wrongdoing and called itself the victim of a campaign against privacy. Mossack Fonseca, in a statement posted on its website on Monday, said media reports had "misrepresented the nature of our work." "We routinely resign from client engagements when ongoing due diligence and updates to sanctions lists reveal that a beneficial owner of a company for which we provide services is compromised," it said. The law firm added that "excluding the professional fees we earn, we do not take possession or custody of clients' money, or have anything to do with any of the direct financial aspects" of their business operations. Leading figures responded to the leaks with denials as prosecutors and regulators began a review of the reports from the investigation by the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The U.S. Department of Justice would determine whether there was evidence of corruption and other violations of U.S. law, a spokesman said. A White House spokesman said that "in spite of the lack of transparency that exists in many of these transactions," there were U.S. experts who could find out whether they violated sanctions and laws. Financial prosecutors in France announced the opening of a preliminary investigation for aggravated tax fraud. Germany would also “pick up the ball” in the case, a Finance Ministry spokesman said on Monday. Financial market watchdog Bafin is looking into the matter, said a source close to the regulator, which reports to the ministry. Australia, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands were among other countries that said they had begun investigating the allegations based on more than 11.5 million documents. Banks came under the spotlight over allegations they helped clients hide their wealth offshore. In Argentina, political opposition parties demanded an explanation from center-right President Mauricio Macri because he served as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas related to his wealthy father's business in the past. In a short television interview, Macri denied any wrongdoing and said the company his father founded was legal. "It was an offshore company to invest in Brazil, an investment that ultimately wasn't completed, and where I was director," Macri said. "There is nothing strange about this." In Brazil, where a corruption crisis threatens President Dilma Rousseff's administration, the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper said politicians from seven parties were named as Mossack Fonseca clients. They did not include politicians from Rousseff's Workers' Party. Brazil's tax agency said it would verify information about offshore tax avoidance in the documents and could impose fines on undeclared assets in offshore accounts of up to 150 percent of their value. FORTY YEARS The documents, covering a period from 1977 until last December, were leaked to more than 100 news organizations around the world in cooperation with the ICIJ. "I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle said. The Kremlin said the documents contained "nothing concrete and nothing new," while a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said his late father's reported links to an offshore company were a "private matter." Pakistan denied any wrongdoing by the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his daughter and son were linked to offshore companies. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko defended his commitment to transparency after lawmakers called for an investigation into allegations in the documents that he had used an offshore firm to avoid tax. Poroshenko purportedly moved his confectionery business, Roshen, to the British Virgin Islands in August 2014 as fighting between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists peaked. "I believe I might be the first top official in Ukraine who treats declaring of assets, paying taxes, conflict of interest issues seriously," Poroshenko tweeted. Iceland's prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, faced calls for his resignation after ICIJ said he and his wife were connected with a secretive company in an offshore haven. His political opposition filed a no-confidence motion. "I certainly won't (resign) because what we've seen is the fact that, well, my wife has always paid her taxes. We've also seen that she has avoided any conflict of interest by investing in Icelandic companies at the same time that I'm in politics," he told Reuters TV. Britain's Guardian newspaper said the documents showed a network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion led to associates of Putin, including concert cellist Sergei Roldugin, a childhood friend of the president. Reuters could not confirm those details. Putin's spokesman dismissed the reports as "Putinophobia". The British government asked for a copy of the leaked data, which could be embarrassing for Cameron, who has spoken out against tax evasion and tax avoidance. His late father, Ian Cameron, a wealthy stockbroker, is mentioned in the files, alongside some members of his Conservative Party, former Conservative lawmakers and party donors, British media said. Jennie Granger, head of enforcement and compliance at HM Revenue and Customs, said the government would examine the information "and act on it swiftly and appropriately." Cameron's spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the leader's family had money invested in offshore funds set up by his father, saying it was a "private matter". The Australian Tax Office said it was investigating more than 800 wealthy Mossack Fonseca clients and had linked more than 120 of them to an associate offshore service provider located in Hong Kong, which it did not name. "We regret any misuse of companies that we incorporate or the services we provide and take steps to uncover or stop such use," the law firm's statement said. Media reports said the leaked data pointed to a link between a member of global soccer body FIFA's ethics committee and a Uruguayan soccer official arrested last year as part of a U.S. probe into corruption in the sport. Mossack Fonseca said it had "no connection or involvement with these matters in any way." The British-based Tax Justice Network said too many offshore lawyers, accountants and bankers saw it as their role to shield their clients from financial regulations. Director John Christensen said in a statement that the law firm operated with "extreme secrecy and discretion" for their clients, "which was attractive to many clients engaged in tax evasion, fraud, hiding conflicts of interest, and other white collar crimes." The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has pushed for more transparency on taxes, said Panama "must put its house in order." OECD said it had warned G20 finance ministers before the leaks that Panama was backtracking on a commitment to share information on accounts with other governments. "The consequences of Panama's failure to meet the international tax transparency standards are now out there in full public view," OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said in a statement. (Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Additional reporting by Andreas Kroener in Frankfurt and Matthias Sobolewski in Berlin; Writing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Peter Cooney)
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden will continue his flurry of executive orders on Monday, signing a new directive to require the federal government to “buy American” for products and services. Why it matters: The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.What they're saying: "President Biden is ensuring that when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars they are spent on American made goods by American workers and with American-made component parts," the White House said in a fact sheet.The big picture: Biden’s action kick offs another week in which the president will seek to undo many Trump policies with executive actions, while signaling the direction that he wants to take the country. * Biden will also reaffirm his support for the Jones Act, which requires maritime shipments between American ports to be carried on U.S. vessels. * Last week, Biden signed an order to attempt to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors and workers to $15 an hour.The bottom line: Former President Trump also attempted to force the federal government to rely on U.S. manufacturers for procurement with "buy American" provisions. * But supply chains — with some parts and components made outside of the U.S. — require long and complicated efforts to boost domestic manufacturing. Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
- National Review
President Biden will sign a fresh round of executive orders during his first full week in office, including actions loosening restrictions around abortion and immigration. Biden will issue and order to rescind the Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. funding for foreign organizations that perform or promote abortions. The administration also dodged last week on whether Biden plans to scrap the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions under Medicaid. On immigration, Biden plans to establish a task force focused on reuniting migrant families who were separated as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, according to a memo outlining the upcoming executive actions obtained by The Hill. Biden will order an immediate review of the public-charge rule, which denies U.S. entry to migrants considered likely to become dependent on the government. The president also plans to roll back Trump administration policies on asylum and take “other actions to remove barriers and restore trust in the legal immigration system, including improving the naturalization process.” At the same time, Biden will take a page from the Trump administration’s playbook and sign an order directing federal agencies to tighten requirements on buying goods and services made in America from American businesses. Trump signed a similar directive during his first months in office. The president will also sign orders related to racial equity, including establishing a commission on police and bringing back Obama-era rules on transferring military-style equipment to local law enforcement. Another order will direct the Justice Department to improve prison conditions and begin the process of eliminating private prisons. Biden may also sign an order reversing a ban on transgender troops serving in the military. On climate change, Biden is expected to sign an order installing regulations to “combat climate change domestically and elevate climate change as a national security priority.”
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
India said it will administer homegrown coronavirus vaccine COVAXIN in seven more states from Monday as it seeks to inoculate 30 million healthcare workers across the country. The government this month gave emergency-use approval to the vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd and state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
- The Telegraph
A Texan teenager who tipped off the FBI about his father's alleged involvement in the Capitol riots said he would "do it again", despite claiming his father threatened to shoot him for being a "traitor". Jackson Reffitt, 18, said he felt a moral obligation to report his father to the authorities after watching him participate in the violent riots on live TV. His father, Guy, 48, was arrested at his home in Wylie, Texas on January 16 and faces charges of obstruction of justice and knowingly entering a restricted building. According to court documents, Mr Reffitt had allegedly threatened his wife and children, saying: “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors … traitors get shot”. The younger Mr Reffitt said he was "afraid" of what his father might think of him, but told local station Fox 4 that he had acted according to his "moral compass".
The will-he-or-won't-he speculation surrounding a possible gubernatorial run by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is destined to continue at least a bit longer.What he's saying: Lindell told Axios that his focus is currently on proving his (baseless) claims of election fraud. He won't make a decision until that fight is resolved.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * "Why would anybody want to run if they had the same machines with the election fraud?" Lindell said Friday. * "It will all get out there, and when it does, we'll see what elections are going to have to be done with paper ballots and no machines. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to put in everybody's resources and time."Between the lines: While he's leaving the door open, Lindell's comments create a path for bowing out.Why it matters: If Lindell runs, name recognition and his ties to Trump could give him an edge among GOP voters. * Many top Republican officials and consultants think having the unpredictable pillow salesman at the top of the ticket would spell disaster for their efforts to win statewide in 2022.How we got here: Lindell has been flirting with a bid for months, but his commitment to promoting conspiracy theories about the 2020 election — including a much-covered White House visit — has triggered legal backlash and trouble for his business. * Last fall, Lindell said he'd run if Trump won another term. Then, in early January, he told the Star Tribune he was "90-95%" sure he'd jump in and would decide "once we know Donald Trump is our president."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
The United States often sends ships and aircraft into the South China Sea to "flex its muscles" and this is not good for peace, China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday, after a U.S. aircraft carrier group sailed into the disputed waterway. The strategic South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade flows each year, has long been a focus of contention between Beijing and Washington, with China particularly angered by U.S. military activity there. The U.S. carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt and accompanied by three warships, entered the waterway on Saturday to promote "freedom of the seas", the U.S. military said, just days after Joe Biden became U.S. president..
- Associated Press
Four Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19, three within the past two weeks, highlighting a resurgence of the disease that is sweeping through this southern African country. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country. Then came the death of the transport minister.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
Tacoma Police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said police were alerted to the street racers and a 100-person crowd blocking area streets, according to the News Tribune. When the patrol car responded, the crowd began pounding on the vehicle's windows, she told local media. “He was afraid they would break his glass,” Haddow told the News Tribune, saying the officer sped away from the scene for his own safety.
- Business Insider
Barely any time has passed since President Biden's inauguration, and Republicans have already returned to their bag of shenanigans.
- Associated Press
Indianapolis police arrested a 17-year-old boy Monday in the killings of five people, including a pregnant woman, who were shot to death inside a home in what the city's mayor called a “devastating act of violence.” The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that the name of the suspect in Sunday's killings was “not being released at this time since the suspect is a juvenile." As officers were investigating, police received information about 4:40 a.m. that led them to a nearby home, where they found multiple adults dead inside from apparent gunshot wounds, Sgt. Shane Foley said Sunday.
- The Telegraph
The first thing you notice about Donald Trump in the flesh is his size. He has a rugby player build: 6ft 3in and 17 stone. His sheer physicality is never quite captured on television. Neatly cut suits hide his bulk from the camera, but in person - especially side-on - it is unavoidable. The second thing is the hair, swept across and back and fixed in place. It is like a crashing wave frozen in motion. And then there is the skin complexion. A warm, yellow hue that draws your eyes after all the speculation about sunbed use. At least, that is the order I remember when seeing him first after moving to Washington DC as The Telegraph’s US Editor in October 2017. After years covering Westminster, I had been sent to try to unpack the Trump phenomenon to British readers, the nature of his appeal and how he was wielding power. For the next three years and four months my working life revolved almost entirely around the president - his moods, his decisions, his controversies, his tweets. There were rallies across America, where he was welcomed like a saviour. There were foreign trips to Hanoi, Singapore, Brussels, Helsinki and London, where he was treated with caution. Most of the time you simply felt swept along by an unrelenting current of news, much of it directed by Mr Trump himself, a master media manipulator.