Probe into law firms linked to Pandora Papers

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The Cyprus Bar Association has launched an investigation into two law firms implicated in the Pandora Papers, a huge leak of documents revealing how the rich and powerful use offshore firms to hide their wealth.

Among the two firms named in the papers is the one founded by President Nicos Anastasiades, currently run by his two daughters, but still carries his name. The other is a Nicosia office.

The Pandora Papers, a joint project conducted by international media named President Anastasiades and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš among 35 world leaders implicated in an expose of secret offshore accounts.

Talking before the House’s Ethics Committee on Wednesday, the chairman of the Bar Association Christos Clerides said the probe will be conducted within the coming weeks and any findings of wrongdoing sent to the Legal Services.

Clerides said that Attorney General George Savvides might already have a file on the former law firm of President Anastasiades as complaints about its alleged involvement in hiding assets of a controversial Russian billionaire.

The alleged connection between Anastasiades’ former law firm and the Russian billionaire made headlines in the UK’s The Guardian newspaper over the weekend.

Clerides said that complaints had been lodged about a person “who used Cyprus to move $115 mln”.

President Anastasiades has repeatedly denied any knowledge of his former law firm’s alleged involvement in hiding assets of a controversial Russian billionaire, as revealed in a joint project conducted by international media.

Last week, the European Parliament called for an in-depth investigation by member states into politicians whose names appear in the Pandora Papers.

The draft specifically mentions Anastasiades and other present and former political leaders.

The document trove reveals how powerful people can deploy anonymous shell companies, trusts and other ploys to conceal the true owners of corrupt or illicit assets.

Legally sanctioned trusts, for example, can be subject to abuse by tax evaders and fraudsters who crave the privacy and autonomy they offer compared with traditional business entities.

Shell companies, a favoured tax evasion vehicle, are often layered in complex networks that conceal the identity of the beneficial owners of assets — those who ultimately control an offshore company or other assets or benefit from it financially, while other people’s names are listed on registration documents.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spent more than a year structuring, researching, and analysing more than 11.9 million records in the Pandora Papers leak.

The Pandora Papers investigation is the world’s largest-ever journalistic collaboration, involving more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries.