Panamá Papers revelations seem to lack any local smoking guns

The initial disclosures from the Panamá Papers were a bit of a letdown in Costa Rica. There did not appear to be any smoking gun of illegality.

In fact, the Universidad de Costa Rica newspaper, El Semanario, which was privy to the massive legal papers database seemed overplay the facts.

The newspaper featured Otto Guevara Guth, the Partido Libertario leader and current legislator, because his name turned up on a 27-year-old document. María Luisa Ávila, the former health minister, found herself featured because a document showed she once received five shares of a company. She said on a Twitter message the shares were worth $100 each.

The absence of beef did not stop lawmakers from the Partido Liberación Nacional and Acción Ciudadana from calling for fast action on a pending fiscal fraud bill, No. 19.245. Marco Vinicio Redondo Quirós of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that the decision to push the legislation by members of  his party was due to the findings of the journalistic investigation.

Paulina Ramírez Portuguez of the Partido Liberación Nacional said she was concerned by the presumed cases of tax evasion revealed by the Panama Papers.

The pending legislation would do little to prevent Costa Ricans from creating offshore companies for various business purposes and even for illegal reasons.

However, the bill would require corporations in Costa Rica to report the names of their beneficial owners.

Mike Cobb of issued a bulletin Monday in which he said that offshore corporations were under attack.  The online publication promotes offshore entities and second passports.

“For many, the offshore world has always carried the connotation of illegality and deception, and this massive scandal will likely deepen that sentiment,” he said, suggesting that legislation would be forthcoming.

The story broke Sunday night and reveals the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials around the world, including 12 current and former world leaders.

El Semanario reported that its staffers worked three months with the The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which obtained the data base stolen from the Panamá law firm of  Mossack Fonseca.

The response to the weekly’s 42 pages of news stories was substantial. The paper was sold out Monday morning, and access to its Web site was spotty.

In total, some 18 names of Costa Ricans were mentioned in the El Semanario coverage. These were people who had transacted business in one way or another with the law firm. Among these were Manuel Francisco Jiménez Echeverría, president of the board of Grupo Nación, former Alajuela mayor Joyce Zurcher, several former ministers and other leading businessmen.

One news story shows that several companies were created if only briefly to accelerate the sale of chicken marketer Corporación Pipasa to the Minnesota-based Cargill, which moved the firm offshore.

As the  International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has pointed out, there is nothing illegal in having an offshore corporation. And the Panamá law firm issued a statement in which it said it was not responsible for the use its clients make of the entity after lawyers create it.

There is some question how interested the average citizen is in the disclosures. The International Consortium posted some YouTube videos about its lengthy investigation. One poster noted that a video about celebrity Taylor Swift falling off a treadmill had attracted 14 times the viewers.

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