Panama Papers trial's public portion comes to an unexpectedly speedy end

PANAMA CITY — The public portion of a trial of more than two-dozen associates accused of helping some of the world’s richest people hide their wealth came to an unexpectedly speedy conclusion Friday when a Panamanian judge said she would take the two weeks of trial arguments and testimony under advisement.

The trial came eight years after 11 million leaked secret financial documents that became known as the “Panama Papers” prompted the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and brought scrutiny to the then-leaders of Argentina and Ukraine, Chinese politicians, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others.

Judge Baloisa Marquínez noted Friday that the case included more than 530 volumes of information. The public trial had been expected to run to the end of the month. The judge has 30 working days to issue a verdict.

Those on trial include the owners of the Mossack Fonseca law firm that was at the heart of the 2016 massive document leak. Jürgen Mossack attended the trial, while his partner Ramón Fonseca did not for health reasons, according to his counsel.

Panamanian prosecutors allege that Mossack, Fonseca and their associates created a web of shell companies that used complex transactions to hide money linked to illicit activities in the “car wash” corruption scandal of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

“This whole process from eight years ago until now … has had a lot of consequences for my family, on my personal situation and truly has been a great injustice not just for me but for all of the people who have worked with me,” Mossack testified Friday. “I trust your honor will know how to evaluate all that has been said here.”

Mossack had said at the start of the trial, as he has for years, that he was not guilty of the money laundering charges.

According to Panamanian prosecutors, the Mossack Fonseca firm created 44 shell companies, 31 of which opened accounts in Panama to hide money linked to the Brazilian scandal.

Fonseca has said the firm, which closed in 2018, had no control over how its clients might use offshore vehicles created for them.

Mossack Fonseca helped create and sell around 240,000 shell companies across four decades in business. It announced its closure in March 2018, two years after the scandal erupted.

The firm’s documents were first leaked to the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung, and were shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which began publishing collaborative reports with news organizations in 2016.

“The reputational deterioration, the media campaign, the financial siege and the irregular actions of some Panamanian authorities have caused irreparable damage, whose consequence is the complete cease of operations to the public,” the firm said in a statement at the time.

The Mossack and Fonseca were acquitted on other charges in 2022.

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