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Wyoming investigates Panama Papers law firm

The Wyoming State Capitol building framed by downtown Cheyenne, Wyo. on March 8, 2016. Wyoming is the least populous and the second least densely populated of the 50 United States but a very popular location for the formation of offshore corporations because one can set up a LLC in Wyoming without one's name having to be in the State Register.
The Wyoming State Capitol building framed by downtown Cheyenne, Wyo. on March 8, 2016. Wyoming is the least populous and the second least densely populated of the 50 United States but a very popular location for the formation of offshore corporations because one can set up a LLC in Wyoming without one's name having to be in the State Register. McClatchy

The Wyoming arm of the law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers global scandal is under investigation by Wyoming state officials for failing to maintain required statutory information about companies registering there, Secretary of State Ed Murray said Wednesday.

Upon learning of the Panama Papers, a massive leak of secret offshore company data reported on by McClatchy and more than 100 other media partners around the globe, Wyoming initiated an audit of 24 companies registered in the state by the law firm Mossack Fonseca and its partners, he said.

“The audit concluded around noon on Monday, April 4th, and determined that M.F. Corporate Services Wyoming LLC failed to maintain the required statutory information for performing the duties of a registered agent under Wyoming law,” Murray said in a statement.

The state followed immediately with administrative action, demanding that required information be provided.

“Subsequently, M.F. Corporate Services did provide the information,” the secretary of state’s office said, adding that Murray also briefed law enforcement that day. “This investigation of this matter is ongoing.”

As McClatchy reported Tuesday in a lengthy story set in Wyoming, the Cowboy State has roughly one registered company per every 4.5 residents. In response to criticism in 2006, the state began requiring that registered agents who incorporate companies keep contact information for companies. Several agents with whom McClatchy spoke said it is not their job to know who the true owners of companies are.

The world’s largest document leak went public on April 3, quickly dubbed the “Panama Papers.” These documents detailed the offshore bank accounts of many of the world’s richest people. Steve “Buzz” Thomma and McClatchy D.C. reporter Kevin Hall exp

The report also showed that Russian and Brazilian middlemen were using the state, and Nevada, to create companies that had no U.S. business, and in the case of Brazil were tied to a political scandal that threatens to topple the government. The Panama Papers have already caused the Icelandic prime minister to step aside.

McClatchy’s investigation, part of the international yearlong analysis into 11.5 million leaked files from the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca & Co., took place under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Wyoming offers the same secrecy for true owners of incorporated companies, whether they are U.S. citizens or foreigners, as offshore fiscal havens like the British Virgin Islands or the Cayman Islands.

Wyoming requires only that a live contact for a company is provided in case of the kind of audit the state conducted Monday. Murray insisted that the state will not change its laws.

“I oppose a one-size-fits-all federal law mandating the dissolving of privacy protections,” he said, adding that he would consider more measures to combat fraud. “We are not naive as to the importance of the release of these ‘Panama Papers,’ but we will not compromise the privacy of our customers.”

This story is part of a larger series, involving McClatchy and other news organizations, working under the umbrella of the nonprofit International Consortium for Investigative Journalists.

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038; @kevinghall; khall@mcclatchydc.com

An unprecedented look at offshores

A database leak at the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama exposes how it hides money for its clients.

THE LEAK: Munich’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper was given the files, which were shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

ITS SIZE: 11.5 million emails and client records. It would take 24 hours to download the 2.6 terabytes at normal internet speeds.

THE MEDIA PARTNERS: More than 350 journalists, including a U.S. McClatchy reporting team, in 77 countries examined the data.

WHO WAS FOUND: 12 current and former heads of state and government, 61 relatives and associates of leaders, and 128 other public officials.

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